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JOHN CHAPTER 11
John 11:1-46 The sickness and death of Lazarus: Jesus raiseth him to life after he had been dead four days: many Jews believe.
John 11:47-54 The Pharisees hold a council against Christ: Caiaphas prophesieth: Jesus retires from places of public resort.
John 11:55-57 At the approach of the passover the Jews inquire about him: the rulers give orders to apprehend him.
Bethany (as appears by John 11:18) was nigh unto Jerusalem, not wholly at two miles distance from it: but our Saviour was not at this time in Judea, for, John 11:7, he saith to his disciples, Let us go into Judea again. He was at this time in Galilee, or in Peraea; and we shall find, John 11:17, that Lazarus had been in his grave four days before our Saviour got thither: so as we must allow at least six or seven days between the time when Christ heard of Lazarus’s sickness, and the time when he came to Bethany. This Bethany is here only described to us as the place where Martha and Mary lived, or at least where they were born. Some think that Bethany was only a part of the Mount Olivet; but others, more probably, think that it was some little town or city, standing within that part of the Mount Olivet; for it is here called a town, and, Luke 10:38,Luke 10:39, the place where these two sisters lived is called a village.
We read of a woman, Luke 7:37,Luke 7:38, that came behind our Saviour while he was at dinner, in the house of Simon the Pharisee, brought an alabaster box of ointment, stood at his feet behind him weeping, washing his feet with her tears, and wiping them with her hair; but it appears by the story, she had been before a notorious sinner. We read of another woman, Matthew 26:6,Matthew 26:7; Mark 14:3, that poured a box of ointment on our Saviour’s head as he was at dinner in the house of Simon the leper: but we, in those two evangelists, read nothing of her washing his feet with her tears, or wiping them with her hair; but in the next chapter of this Gospel, John 12:3, we have a story which (whether it be the same with the other or no, I cannot tell) is that doubtless to which this verse refers: the names and circumstances much agree. There were other Mary’s, (for Mary was a very ordinary name among them), but this was that Mary which is mentioned John 12:3, that anointed the Lord with ointment, &c. It was her brother was sick.
Christ (as was said before) seems to have been very familiar at the house of these two sisters, and often to have made them his hostesses; and it should appear by this verse that in those visits he had showed particular kindnesses to this their brother Lazarus, who was now sick; this makes them style their brother, he whom thou lovest. They plead no merits either of their own or his, but only plead with him for his own goodness and love. Nor do they express in particular what they desired for their brother, though it is easily understood by their representation of his state and condition.
God hath not sent this sickness upon Lazarus to determine his being upon the earth; or such a separation of the soul of Lazarus from his body, as there shall be no reunion of it before the general resurrection (which is our ordinary notion of death); God hath not sent this sickness for that purpose, but that he might be glorified by his Son raising him from the dead. God is glorified when his Son is glorified; and Christ is glorified when his Divine power is manifested, so as men acknowledge him to be what indeed he is.
He doubtless loved them with a special, distinguishing love, as persons chosen in him to eternal life before the foundation of the world, given unto him by an eternal donation, called by him with an effectual calling, to own and receive him as their Saviour; but this text seemeth to speak of him as loving this family with a human love, which inclineth man to a complacency in an object beloved: he had a kindness for the whole family; they had showed them kindness in his state of humiliation, and he loved those that so loved him, Proverbs 8:17.
Though he loved him and his sisters with a tender love, yet he did not presently go to them, to comfort Mary and Martha in their sorrow; nor yet to cure Lazarus, and prevent his death; but stayed still two days in the place where he was. He loved Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus, but he more loved the honour and glory of his Father, which was to be manifested in his raising of Lazarus from the dead. We must not judge of Christ’s love to us by his mere external dispensations of providence; nor judge that he doth not love us because he doth not presently come in to our help, at our times, and in such ways and methods as we would think reasonable.
This lets us know, that Christ was not in Judea when he received the tidings of Lazarus’s sickness, but in Peraea, or Galilee; but he presently upon it takes up thoughts of returning again into that province, and indeed he was now preparing for his last journey thither: however, the sickness of Lazarus, and his raising from the dead, was one occasion of his so soon going up; from which his disciples would have discouraged him, as followeth ...( see John 11:8).
See Poole on "John 10:31". There were not three months elapsed since the Jews had so sought to have stoned him, and there was no reason for him to think that their fury was in any whit abated. We read in the other evangelists of other words they used (Peter especially, Matthew 16:22), to dissuade our Saviour from this journey to Jerusalem. They were afraid for their Master, and they were afraid also for themselves.
Look as in the day there are twelve hours, in which the sun shineth, and by giving its light directs men in their courses; so as they know how to guide their feet, and do not stumble, because they have the light of the sun, which God hath ordained, to direct men that walk up and down in the world.
And there is a night also, wherein if men walk they will be very prone to stumble, because they are in darkness, and have no light to guide their feet. So there is a set time for all the issues of men; a time for their peace and liberty, and a time for their troubles and sufferings. God rules and governs the world. While men are in their callings and places, faithfully discharging their trust, and finishing the work which God hath given them to do, and their time is not come for their glorifying of God by suffering, they shall not stumble, nor be given up to the rage of their eagerest enemies; they are in their callings and places, and God will be light unto them: but when their working time is over, and the time of their night is come, then they will stumble; because then God withdraweth his light from them; they are not then under such a special protection of God, who hath done his work by and with them. This is as much as he had said before, John 8:20, No man laid hands on him, for his hour was not yet come; the twelve hours of his day were not all spent. This duty digested, is of infinite use to quiet the spirits of God’s people in the worst of times; every man hath his twelve hours, his day and set time, to honour God upon the stage of the world: he shall not stumble, he shall not miscarry, while those hours are spent; he shall not die, he shall not be disabled for duty, so long as God hath aught for him to do. But every man hath his night too, when he must not expect to converse in the world without stumbling.
There is such an analogy between death and sleep, that there is nothing more ordinary than to express death by sleep in Scripture, Deuteronomy 31:16; 2 Samuel 7:12; 1 Kings 1:21; 2 Kings 20:21; Job 7:21; Job 14:12; Daniel 12:2, and in a multitude of other texts, both in the Old Testament and in the New; so as it was evident our Saviour meant he was dead, which he knew as he was God, though as yet he had received no relation of it from the friends of the deceased.
But I go (saith our Saviour) to raise him up again from the dead, which he calls awaking him; pursuing the former metaphor, where he had compared death to a sleep.
Sleeping moderately is a good sign, we know, in most diseases; this makes the disciples say, that if Lazarus slept he should do well.
But that the disciples should not understand our Saviour not speaking of ordinary sleep, but of death, is wonderful, considering that there is nothing more ordinary in holy writ than to read of death expressed under this notion; but possibly by our Saviour’s making such haste to him, they conceived that he was not dead, but only in an ordinary sleep, upon the abatement of his disease.
You will mistake me; my meaning was, not that Lazarus was fallen to rest upon the abatement of his distemper, but his soul is parted from his body.
Had I been upon the place, my kindness to his sisters, and pity, would have prevailed far with me to have prevented his death; but it is better, for your sakes at least, and I am glad. I was not there. For by this means I shalt have an advantage, by putting forth my Divine power in raising him from the dead, to confirm your faith in me as the Son of God, and the true Messias; therefore, though he be dead,
let us go unto him.
Thomas and Didymus were names of the same signification, only Thomas was the Hebrew, and Didymus the Greek name. This is that Thomas who to the last showed a greater difficulty in believing than many others of the disciples did, John 20:25. His words here signified great rashness and unbelief: Let us also go, that we may die with him; with Christ (say some). Seeing that our Lord will not be persuaded from going into Judea, where his life will be in apparent danger, for they will put him to death, let us also go and die with him. But it is more probable that Thomas meant with Lazarus, who, as our Saviour told them but now, was dead; and in that sense it was not only an expression of great passion, but great unbelief also. We ought not to be so affected with the death of our friends, as to wish or desire ourselves out of the world, where God hath set us in stations which we ought to keep, until God be pleased to remove us. Besides, Thomas ought to have believed our Saviour, who had told them, that though Lazarus slept the sleep of death, yet he went to awake him; which could have no other sense, than to raise him out of that sleep of death, of which he had spoken. Ah! To what errors do our passions betray us!
Christ came to Bethany where Lazarus died; he found he had lain in the grave four days; so as probably Christ came not to Bethany till four days or more after the death of Lazarus, or near upon. But possibly it is better judged by others, that Christ was not yet come into Bethany, but only to the place where he met Martha; because it is said after this, John 11:30, that Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him; which it is probable was at Lazarus’s sepulchre, out of the town, but near it, as all the Jewish burying places were; where he heard from the relation of Martha how long Lazarus had been buried. Our Saviour could have come sooner had he pleased, for though Bethabara was on the other side of Jordan, (so out of the confines of Judea), yet, if we may give any credit to those who have laboured in the study of places, it was not above four miles off Jerusalem, so as it could not be six miles from Bethany, which our Saviour could have travelled in a less time than four or five days. Some think Lazarus died the same day news came to Christ of his sickness; after which we read, John 11:6, that he stirred not of two days; after which it was, John 11:7, that he took up thoughts of going into Judea. After this, possibly, he lingered one or two days; John 11:14, he tells them Lazarus was dead. Our Saviour was willing to protract the time, that the miracle might be more conspicuous and remarkable.
That, as we count, wants of two miles half a quarter.
Not to pray with them for the soul of their brother departed. That departed souls are in a capacity to be advantaged by the prayers of their friends, or any such thing, are corruptions of latter times; but they had a civil usage of mourning for their friends, the time for which was anciently thirty days. They mourned for Jacob forty days, Genesis 50:3; for Aaron thirty days, Numbers 20:29; so for Moses, Deuteronomy 34:8. It is probable the days were fewer for persons of an inferior quality, but they had some days for all; during which days their neighbours and friends came to visit them, and relieve them in their sorrow, with such arguments as they had.
It should seem by the story, Luke 10:41, that Martha had the care of the house keeping upon her, (Mary was more retired), so that the news of Christ’s coming might come to her first. She in great joy ran out to meet him; how far she went we are not told, but it appeareth from John 11:30 that she went out of the town.
Mary saith the same, John 11:32. They were both in an error, for Lazarus’s death was appointed and determined by an eternal counsel; and he was both sick and died for a wise end, that God might be glorified and his Son glorified in raising him from the dead; as we were before told, John 11:4. But it lets us see the vanity of our natures, who in the loss of our friends are ready to think, if such or such means had been used, we had not lost our friends; never considering our days are appointed, and we cannot pass the number of them. If any rational, probable means for continuing their lives be omitted, that also is not without the counsel of God, who having determined the issue, concealeth diseases, or the true and proper means for their cure, from physicians, or such as are about the sick persons. Nor did Martha and Mary fail in this only, but in that they made the Lord’s presence necessary to the preserving of the life of their brother, who, had he pleased, could, though absent, have kept him from death.
She showed some unbelief in her former words, but here again she showeth her faith, but not without some weakness mixed with her faith; for by these words she seemeth not to be satisfied, that the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in Christ, and that he was equal with the Father, and able by his own power to raise the dead; her faith extendeth no further than a belief, that he was in so much favour with God, that if he would please to intercede with God, he would restore her brother to life: this she meaneth; though the raising of persons from the dead was a thing so rare and unusual, that she dares not to mention that particular thing, though uppermost in her thoughts.
Christ takes no notice of Martha’s failings before mentioned, (he can have compassion upon his people’s infirmities), but applies himself to the relief of her under her affliction. He doth not tell her that her brother should be raised to life presently, nor that he would do it; but only saith he shall rise again: to let us know, that a belief of the general resurrection is enough, and ought to be improved by us, to curb our immoderate mourning and passions for those of our friends who are dead in the Lord.
From hence we learn, that the general resurrection of the dead is no novel doctrine. Job believed it, Job 19:26,Job 19:27. Daniel published it, Daniel 12:2. The Pharisees owned it, though the Sadducees denied it; and possibly the Pharisees had but a confused notion of it. Martha here makes it an article of her faith.
Martha by her speech seemed not to have a true notion of Christ; she believed that there should be a general resurrection from the dead in the last day, by the mighty power of God, but she did not truly understand what influence Christ had upon this resurrection, that the raising of the dead should be the peculiar work of Christ, not without the Father, but as he was ordained by the Father to be the Judge of the quick and of the dead. Christ doth therefore here further instruct her, and tell her, he was
the resurrection; where (as is usual in Scripture) the effect is put for the cause:
I am the resurrection, is no more than, I am, and shall be, the principal cause of the resurrection: the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, John 5:28. He also adds, and the life; that is, the cause of life; both that life which the dead shall in the resurrection recover, and also that eternal life which shall follow. And whosoever looketh upon me in that notion, and committeth himself unto me, though he doth die, yet he shall rise again, and live eternally; and this power being in me, I am not tied to the last day, but have a power when I please to raise the dead. Our Saviour indeed hath more in his answer than respected the present case; but there was nothing more usual with him, than in his discourses to raise up the hearts of his people to higher things, as he doth in this place raise Martha beyond the thoughts of a resurrection of her brother’s body to a natural life, to the thoughts of a spiritual and eternal life.
He had before proved himself to be the resurrection, now he proveth himself to be the life. He saith, he that liveth, that liveth a natural life, if he be one who receiveth and embraces me as the true Messiah and Saviour of the world, and committeth himself and all the concerns of his soul to me, shall never die. Though his body shall die because of sin, yet his spirit shall live because of righteousness; and God shall in the great day quicken again his mortal body, through the Holy Spirit which dwelleth in him, and is united to him, Romans 8:10,Romans 8:11. He asketh Martha if she believed this. We shall observe, that our Saviour, not here only, but Matthew 9:22,Matthew 9:28, before he wrought his miraculous operations, required people’s faith as a prerequisite. And, Matthew 13:58, he could not do many mighty works in his own country, because of their unbelief. And, Matthew 17:20, he tells his disciples, that the reason why they could not cure the man possessed with the devil, was because of their unbelief: so great an honour hath God given to the exercise of faith.
This is the nearest to the confession of Peter, Matthew 16:16, which our Saviour calleth, the rock upon which he would build his church, of any that we have in Scripture; yea, and more full than that, for those words, which should come into the world, are not in Peter’s confession. The sum of this is, Martha doth here profess a full assent to our Saviour as the Messias, the Son of God; he who was prefigured, prophesied of, promised, as he who should come into the world.
Mary was left at home, while Martha went out of the town to meet Christ. It seemeth by this verse, Christ had asked for her, though that be not mentioned before. Martha goeth secretly to her, and tells her that the Master was come. (It was a name they usually called their most famous teachers by).
Mary’s love and readiness to attend upon Christ, appeareth by a former story concerning her and her sister Martha, recorded Luke 10:38-40. But the present sorrow she was in for her dead brother, together with the hopes she conceived of having him restored to life by Christ’s coming, added wings to her motion; therefore the evangelist saith,
she arose quickly, and came to him.
Coming, she falls down at his feet, which was a posture (as we have heard before) very usual in those countries, by which they testified both their civil respects to princes and great persons, and also which they used in the worship of God, Matthew 2:11. Whether Mary did it upon the one account or the other, depends upon what we cannot know; viz. whether she at this time was fully persuaded of his Divine nature; of which the best of the disciples, till Christ’s resurrection, had but a faint and uncertain persuasion. The words which she useth to him are the same which Martha used, See Poole on "John 11:21".
The apostle speaks of Christ, Hebrews 4:15, as an High priest that can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and one that can have compassion, Hebrews 5:2. Martha’s and Mary’s passion for their dead brother was their infirmity; Christ is touched with the feeling of it: he, to show himself truly man,
groaned in himself; it being natural to us to be affected with the afflictions of others, and to weep with those who weep. But here ariseth a question, whether Christ was troubled from a natural necessity, as we sometimes cannot forbear weeping to see others weep bitterly, or out of choice? Some of the ancients think it was out of choice. Mr. Calvin and others think that it was out of a natural necessity; not that he could not govern his passions (as we sometimes cannot) by reason, but that he could not, as man, forbear his passion.
I shall translate what Mr. Calvin speaks, most judiciously, in the case, determining neither way, but leaving it to the reader’s judgment. "But how," saith he, "do gnawing and trouble of spirit agree to that Person who was the Son of God?" Because to some it looketh very absurd to say, that Christ, as one of us, is subject to human passions; they think Christ no otherwise at any time either grieved or rejoiced, than as he, so often as he thought fit, voluntarily assumed to himself those passions by a secret dispensation. Augustine thought that Christ in this sense is said to have groaned, and to have been troubled; whereas other men’s passions transport them, and exercise a tyranny over them, to the disturbance of their minds: he therefore thinks the meaning is, that Christ, being otherwise sedate, and free from passions, sometimes voluntarily took these passions. But in my judgment, it is a much plainer and simpler sense of this scripture, if we say, that the Son of God, taking upon him our nature, did also freely with it put on our affections (which are our natural infirmities); so as he in nothing differed from us, but in this, that he had no sin. Nothing by this is derogated from the glory of Christ; for he voluntarily submitted to take our nature upon him, by which he became like to us in our human affections. And we must not think, that after he had voluntarily submitted to take our perfect nature upon him, that he was free from the passions and affections of it: in this he proved himself to be our Brother, that we might know that he is a Mediator for us, who can easily pardon our infirmities, and is ready to help us as to those infirmities, which he hath experienced in his own person. If any one object, That seeing our passions are sinful, it doth not agree to the nature of him who was the Son of God to share with us in them; I answer, There is a great deal of difference (as to these passions) between us and Christ; for our affections are therefore faulty, because they are intemperate, and inordinate, and keep no bounds; but in Christ, though they be, yet they are composed, and moderate, and in obedience to God. The passions of men are faulty upon two accounts:
1. As they are turbulent, and not governed by the rule of moderation.
2. As they often rise without any due ground or foundation, or are not directed to a right end.
They are in us a disease, because we neither grieve nor rejoice in measure, and to that degree alone which God permits and allows; many rather give the reins to their passions. And such is the vanity of our minds, that we are grieved and troubled for little or no causes, being too much addicted and cleaving to the world. There was no such thing in Christ, no passion in him ever exceeded its just bounds, or was exercised but upon a just and reasonable cause. To make this yet clearer, we must distinguish between man in his creation, and the degenerate nature of man, as it is corrupted through sin. When God at first created man, he created him with natural affections, but such as were under the command of reason: that our passions are now inordinate, and rebellious, is accidental to our nature. Christ indeed took our affections upon him, but without that disorder which fell into them by the fall, which causeth us that we cannot obey them and God. He was greatly troubled, but not so as by his trouble to become disobedient to his Father. In short, if we compare our affections with his, there will appear as great a difference, as between pure water and that which is dirty and filthy. And the single example of Christ is enough to make us reject the stoical apathy (or want of passion); for from whom, if not from him, should we fetch the highest rule of perfection? Let us therefore rather study to correct and tame that disorder in which our passions are entangled, and follow Christ as our guide, that we may bring them into order. Thus Paul, 1 Thessalonians 4:13, doth not require of us a stony stupidity, but commands us to govern our grief, that we may not mourn as men without hope. For Christ therefore took our affections upon him, that we by his grace may be enabled to subdue whatsoever is vicious in them."
Weeping is not of itself a sinful, but a natural passion, which (as was said before) doth very well agree with Christ, having voluntarily taken upon him our nature, and natural infirmities.
Love showeth itself, as in a complacence in the object beloved, while we enjoy it; so in a grief for it when we are deprived of it: the Jews therefore rightly concluded Christ’s kindness to Lazarus, from his human affection expressed at his death.
Some only concluded Christ’s love to the deceased from his affection showed at his grave; but others made a worse conclusion, in derogation to Christ’s reputation, from the miracle he had wrought, John 9:1-34, in restoring him that was born blind; for their speech soundeth in this sense, If he had indeed cured one that was born blind, certainly he could as well have kept this man, to whom (dead) he expresses so great affection, clear from death. A learned interpreter therefore calleth this, a devilish sarcasm; they go about to weaken the reputation of our Saviour, from the miracle which he had wrought, apparently showing his Divine power, because he did not keep his friend from dying. It is much like the scoff with which they afterward scoffed him, while he flung upon the cross, Matthew 27:42, He saved others; himself he cannot save. Or the words may have been spoken, if not with an irony, yet with admiration, that having cured the blind man, a stranger to him, he did not heal his sick friend; or as if they were uncertain whether his power of working miracles were not limited to some times, that he could not perform all things when he pleased. But how weak must this their argumentation be, which could stand upon no other foundation than this, That if Christ were the Son of God, he would at all times, and in all cases, have put forth his Divine power. As if God acted necessarily, not freely, governing his actions by his own wisdom, as he saw most conducing to the wise ends of his glory.
Groaning in himself as before, John 11:33, so showing himself yet further to be truly man, and not without human affections. He cometh to the place where Lazarus’s dead body was laid, which, the evangelist telleth us, was
a cave, or a hollow place in the earth, or some rock. And they were wont to roll some great stones to the mouth of those graves, as we see in the burial of our Saviour, Matthew 27:66.
Our Lord commandeth the removal of the stone, which was at the mouth of the sepulchre, that the miracle might be evident; for Lazarus to have come forth, the door of the cave being shut, and a great stone making it fast, would have looked more like an apparition than a resurrection. It is very probable that Martha thought that our Saviour commanded the removal of the stone, not in order to a commanding him to life again, but out of a curiosity to view his dead body; and therefore she objects the putrefaction of his body, from which the soul was now departed four days, as that which our Saviour would not be able to endure the savour of.
Christ now begins to open to Martha and Mary, and the rest, his resolution to raise Lazarus from the dead by and by Christ saith that to us in his word, which he saith by a just consequence, though he doth not speak it in so many words: we do not read in this history, that Christ had spoken this in so many words and syllables, but he had spoken it in effect; he had told her, John 11:25, that he was the resurrection and the life, that he had power to raise dead bodies from a natural death to life; and that for those who believed in him, though they were dead, they should live. This could not be without a great manifestation of the glory of God: the power of God is his glory. God hath spoken once, ( saith the psalmist), yea, twice have I heard this, that power belongeth unto God, Psalms 62:11. Thou shouldest see God by me manifesting the glory of his Almighty power; God glorifying himself, and glorifying his Son. Believing brings us in experiences of God; whereas unbelief, as it were, limiteth God, and ties up his hands.
The servants, or friends, about the grave, removeth the stone from the mouth of the cave, within which the dead corpse of Lazarus lay. Christ, before his thanksgiving to his Father, is said to have
lifted up his eyes; a posture often used in men’s addresses to God, Psalms 121:1, and Psalms 123:1, as an indication of their belief that heaven is God’s throne: though he filleth heaven and earth, yet heaven is his court, where he most gloriously showeth himself, the earth but his footstool. We read here of nothing that Christ had said before, yet he giveth thanks here to his Father that he had heard him. The meaning is, thou hast willed, or pleased to grant, those things which I desired. It is very hard to determine, whether Christ had used some audible words before this, upon this occasion, in prayer to his Father, which the evangelist could not or did not set down; or whether he only groaned in his spirit, as was said before, by those groans not only expressing his sorrow for Lazarus’s death, or rather sympathy with the afflictions of Mary and Martha, but also his desires to his Father, that he might be again restored to life; and his second groaning, John 11:38, was of that nature: which groanings in the saints God understandeth, knowing the mind of the Spirit, making intercession for the saints according to the will of God (as the apostle teacheth us, Romans 8:27); much more did the Father, who was one in nature, essence, and will with the Son, understand them in him. Nothing in these cases can be determined, much less can any conclude from hence, that there is no need of our using any words in our prayers; for although there be no simple, absolute necessity that we should use them in order to God’s knowledge of what we need, and would have; for he that searcheth the heart, knows what we need, and what we desire, Matthew 6:8; yet there is a necessity for our words, in order to our obeying God’s command, Hosea 14:2; Luke 11:2. There is a great deal of difference between God’s hearing of Christ, and hearing us: Christ and his Father have one essence, one nature, and will.
I know that thou always willest those things which I will; and I will nothing but what thou willest, and hast sent me to do in the world; so as in these things it is impossible but that thou shouldest always be ready to grant what I ask of thee; nay, there is no need of my asking. I only give thee thanks for the people’s sake, who here stand by; who believe thee to be the true God, and to have an Almighty power; but will not as yet believe that I am thy Son, by thee sent into the world, and that I do the works which I do in thee and from thee. We read of many miracles wrought by Christ without any prayer first put up to his Father, Matthew 8:3; Matthew 9:6; Mark 5:41; Mark 9:25; Luke 7:14, using only an authoritative word; nor need he have used any here, but only for the further conviction of the people that he was sent of God, that God whom they owned as their God: he prayeth and giveth thanks to God before them all.
When he had groaned in his spirit, and audibly given thanks to his Father for hearing of him, and testified that he did this, not because he ever had any doubt of his Father’s willing what he willed, but that the people might take notice of his favour and power with God, and that he was sent of him;
he cried with a loud voice; not whispering, nor, like wizards, peeping and muttering, Isaiah 8:19, but speaking aloud, so as all might hear, and understand, that what was done was done by his powerful word. He calls him by his name, he bids him come forth; they were not the words that raised Lazarus, but the mighty, quickening power of Christ, which attended these words.
The fashion of their dressing up the dead differeth, according to the fashion of several countries; among the Jews, we understand by this text, they tied a napkin about their head, and some clothes about their hands and feet. They wound the whole body in linen clothes with spices, John 19:40; this was (as is there said) their manner to bury. So, Acts 5:6, the young men are said to have wound Ananias, and carried him out, and buried him. And this is that which certainly is meant here by these words,
bound hand and foot: and here is a second miracle, that one so wrapped and bound up should be able to move and come forth. Christ bids,
Loose him, and let him go, to evidence him truly recovered to life again, and that the miracle was perfectly wrought. About this miracle there are two curious questions started:
1. Whether the raising of Lazarus to life was done by the mere Divine power of Christ, or by the person of Christ; so as the human nature, being personally united to the Divine nature, had also a share in it; the Divine nature communicating its property of quickening the dead to the human nature? That it was the person of Christ that raised Lazarus, and he who did it was truly man and truly God, is out of doubt. But that there was any such communication of the properties of the Divine nature to the human nature, that it also had a share in this effect, is justly denied, and doubted by many great divines: but it is a question tending to no great profit for us to know.
2. Where Lazarus’s soul was these four days wherein it was separated from the body? The Scripture hath not told us this, and it speaks too great curiosity to inquire too strictly. Though we are taught from the parable of Dives and Lazarus, that the souls of departed saints do ordinarily and immediately pass into heaven, or Abraham’s bosom; yet what should hinder, but that in these cases, where it appears to have been the Divine will that the souls of persons departed should again be returned into their bodies in a short time, they might by a Divine power be kept under the custody of angels, until the time of such restoration of them.
That is, which came to visit Martha and Mary in their mourning; and, coming to Mary, did go along with her to the sepulchre to meet Christ, and there meeting him, saw all the passages relating to this miracle, truly believed on him as the true Messiah, John 12:11,John 12:18. Or it may be, it is to be understood more largely of such a faith as is but preparatory to true and saving faith; for there was a double use of miracles.
1. To prepare men for faith, disposing them to give an ear to him, to whom God hath given so great a power; so as after the sight of them they were more fitted to hear, and inclinable to believe.
2. To confirm faith in those that believed, so as they believed the more firmly, seeing the doctrine they heard confirmed by such miraculous operations.
These Jews had the same means for believing the others had; they had heard the same words from Christ, they had seen the same miracle wrought by Christ. Whence is it that any of the other Jews believed? These, instead of believing, run to the Pharisees to accuse him. Can any account be given of this, unless from the freedom of Divine grace, showing mercy where God will show mercy? Though possibly the former wickedness, of these Jews was the cause of God’s not giving that grace to them which he gave to others.
The chief priests and Pharisees were a great part of that great council amongst the Jews, which went under the name of the sanhedrim; and this (probably) was the council they gathered; for, John 11:49, we read, that Caiaphas, the high priest, the standing president of that court, was amongst them. The miracles wrought by Christ were the things that disturbed them, and they reflect upon themselves for conniving so long at him: what they should have improved (viz. the miracles which he wrought) to have begot or increased faith in them, they mention and misimprove to their destruction.
They are afraid, that if they should any longer suffer Christ to go on working miracles, he would have a great many followers, who upon the credit of his miracles would own him as the Messiah, and the effect and consequence of this would be, they should by the Romans (to whom they were already in subjection) be utterly deprived of that little liberty they indulged them. They say, the Romans would come (that is with an army) and destroy their temple, which they call their
place, their most famous place, where they met to worship God, and in which, as a token of God’s presence amongst them, they so much alerted; yea, and their
nation; that is, miserably destroy their nation, and bring it to utter ruin. Whether they really thought so or no, or only spake this as an argument to hasten the death of Christ, is not much material for us to know. There was this colour for it, the Jews were a people very prone upon all occasions to rebel, and rise up in the defence of their liberties, whenever they could get any head, to give them any countenance and conduct. They also lived in a general expectation of the Messiah, when the sceptre should be departed from Judah, (as it now was), and when Daniel’s seventy weeks, mentioned John 9:24, should be determined, which were now fulfilled; so as there was about this time a general expectation of the Messiah; of whom also it is apparent they had a false notion, and generally expected under the notion of the Messiah, not the Son of God taking human nature, and to die for their redemption, and then rise again from the dead, and ascend into heaven; but a temporal prince, who, conquering all their enemies, should deliver them from all captivities and servitudes, and restore them to their ancient liberties. This their expectation was known well enough to the Roman governors, (as appeareth by Herod’s question to the wise men in Matthew 2:4), and they were very jealous of the Jews on this account, which caused Herod’s bloody act in killing the children in and about Bethlehem. So as the rulers of the Jews (according to the notion they had of the Messiah) might reasonably think, that if Jesus were taken to be the Messiah, and he went on confirming the opinion of himself by these miracles, so as people generally ran after him, the Romans would reasonably suppose they had a design to rebel, and therefore would come upon them, destroy their temple, and utterly ruin their nation. But how will they avoid this? That which they agreed upon we shall meet with John 11:53, they took counsel to put him to death. How they were led on to that fatal counsel we shall hear.
The high priest by the Divine law was to be but one, and he the eldest son of Aaron’s house; nor was he to be for a year, but for his life, as appeareth by a multitude of texts in the books of Moses: but all things were now out of order in the Jewish church; they were under the power of the Romans; all places, especially that of the high priest, were bought and sold amongst them: some say they had two high priests, others say but one, only he had an assistant, called by that name, that had a partnership in the honour. After Herod’s time there was no regard to the family of Aaron, or the Asmoneans, but the Romans made what high priest they pleased; so as Josephus tells us, that the Jews, who had but thirteen high priests from Aaron’s to Solomon’s time, which was six hundred and twelve years; nor more than eighteen in four hundred and sixty years after, to the captivity of Babylon; nor more than fifteen from thence to the time of Antiochus, which was four hundred and fourteen years; had twenty eight between the time that Herod began to reign and Jerusalem was destroyed; of which this Caiaphas was one, and certainly the chief, (if there were two at this time), and consequently the president of their great court, whom all attended to, and his words went a great way with the rest. He charges the rest of the council with folly, as not considering what was fit to be done.
Never was any thing spoken more diabolically: he regards not what was their duty, nor what was lawful for them to do; whether they might upon any pretence shed innocent blood, much more the blood of one whose life was spent in nothing but a going up and down in doing good; only, like a wretched politician, who was concerned for nothing but the people’s safety, he saith not, it is lawful, but,
it is expedient for us that one man, be he never so good, never so innocent and just,
should die for the people, that is, to save the whole nation from destruction.
So far as this was a prophecy, he spake not of himself: take the words of Caiaphas in the sense that he spake them, they were such as might well enough come out of such a wretched mouth, speaking out of the abundance of a vile and wretched heart; Melius pereat unus quam unitas, That it was better that one man should die, let him be never so good, just, and innocent, than that for his sake mischief should come upon a nation. This was now suitable enough to the religion of such a high priest. But that in this (the words being capable of a double sense) Caiaphas should deliver a great truth, That this year one should die for the people; that is, The Messiah should be cut off, but not for himself, as we read, Daniel 9:26; this was no more from himself, than the words which Balaam’s ass spake were from itself. The Spirit of prophecy sometimes fell upon wicked men; God revealed to Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar (both of whom were pagans) the things which he intended to do. There was a time also when Saul (though a man rejected of God) did also prophesy; and the worst of the princes of Judah had a use of the Urim and Thummim. So also here, Caiaphas, though a vile and wicked man, was here influenced by God to prophesy, and speak an oracle. Nor are those words,
being high priest that year, superfluously put in; for it being consistent with the holiness of God, sometimes to make use of the tongues of the worst of men to declare his will, it seems agreeable to the wisdom of God in doing it, to make use of principal men, they being persons whose words are most likely to be regarded, and so make impression upon people. The papists would from hence infer the infallibility of the pope, because he is the high priest: but they ought to prove:
1. That the office of the pope hath any foundation in the word of God.
2. That this was a gift given to particular priests, and at particular times; for the Jewish high priests were fallible enough ordinarily; witness Aaron’s making the golden calf, and Urijah the altar after the pattern of Damascus, 2 Kings 16:10,2 Kings 16:11.
The words, being high priest, are not given as a reason why Caiaphas prophesied, though they are a good reason why God was pleased to choose his tongue, and overrule it beyond his own thoughts and intentions, to serve his design in this revelation. He did not prophesy intentionally, as designing such a thing, only materially: the matter of his words were indeed a Divine revelation, though his intention and scope was fit for none but a base, carnal politician. God made him a prophet in what he said, though he meant not so.
Not for that nation only; not for the Jews only. The words used in Caiaphas’s speech were λαος and εθνος, words not significant of the Jews only, but of other people also: for Christ was to gather into one body all the elect of God, who are here called
the children of God, because they were to be so after their being begotten by the immortal seed of the word, and born again of water and the Spirit), those that at present were
scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth: Christ was to gather together in one all things in heaven and earth, Ephesians 1:10. The evangelist extendeth the sense of Caiaphas’s prophecy to Gentiles as well as Jews, according to the extent of the death of Christ, declared 1 John 2:2.
They had taken such counsel before; but now they were more intent than before, having found a more just pretence, viz. to prevent a sedition and rebellion; and learned of their high priest, that it was more convenient that one should die, than that a whole nation should be destroyed. The high priest had satisfied their consciences; now they make all the haste they can to put their malicious designs in execution.
Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; for he being the true paschal Lamb, was to be slain at that feast, and put an end to that type, and would therefore reserve himself for that time, which was now at hand. A
city called Ephraim: what this Ephren or Ephraim was, interpreters vainly busy themselves in inquiring; it was some obscure city, and near the wilderness; some think it was in the lot of Benjamin, others think it was in the lot of Ephraim, and obtained its name from the tribe in whose lot it was. The Scripture no where mentions it; and it cannot be expected, but that in so many changes of government as had befallen the Jews, the names of places should be so altered, that we should be at loss for many of them: wherever it was, it is said that Christ and his disciples continued there in some privacy.
Christ’s last passover, which was the fourth after he had entered upon his public ministry, was nigh. He doth not say all, but
many went up to purify themselves. There was no general legal purification required before men did eat the passover; but there were several legal uncleannesses, and purifications necessary to cleanse men from them; now those who had any special purification to pass, went before others, that they might have time to do what the law required of them.
I find good interpreters expounding this verse of the friends of Christ, who having used to meet Christ at these feasts, and see some miracles wrought by him, did out of a good design seek for him, and inquire of each other whether they knew if he intended to be at the feast: yet it may also be understood of his enemies, though it seemeth something too early, being six or seven days before.
For their great court had issued out orders for the discovery and apprehending of our Saviour, if they could any way learn where he was. This was in pursuance of that wicked counsel of which we read before, John 11:53; there they decreed; now they cannot rest until they bring their bloody devices to pass, for which we shall soon find God giving them an opportunity.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on John 11". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29