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Bible Commentaries

The Fourfold Gospel

John 11

Verses 1-46


XCIII.
PERÆA TO BETHANY. RAISING OF LAZARUS.
dJOHN XI. 1-46.

d1 Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. [For Bethany and the sisters, see John 12:3], whose brother Lazarus was sick. [The anointing had not yet taken place, as John himself shows. For a similar anticipation see Matthew 10:4. There are five prominent Marys in the New Testament: those of Nazareth, Magdala and Bethany; the mother of Mark, and the wife of Clopas.] 3 The sisters therefore sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. [The message and its form both indicate the close intimacy between this family and Christ. They make no request, trusting that Jesus’ love will bring him to Bethany.] 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby. [The sickness of Lazarus was for the purpose or design of a resurrection, so that death was a mere preceding incident. By this resurrection the Son of God would be glorified by manifesting more clearly than ever before that death came under his Messianic dominion, and by gathering believers from amongst his enemies. In all this the Father would also be glorified in the Son.] 5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. [In this passage we have two Greek words for love. In John 11:3, John 11:36 we have philein, which expresses natural affection such as a parent feels for a child. In this verse we have agapan, an affection resulting from moral choice, loftier and less impulsive. We are told of the Lord’s love that we may understand that his delay was not due to indifference.] 6 When therefore he heard that he was sick, he abode at that time two [519] days in the place where he was. [It is urged that the exigencies of his ministry delayed Jesus in Peræa. But the import of the texts is that he kept away because of his love for the household of Lazarus and his desire to bless his disciples. He delayed that he might discipline and perfect the faith of the sisters and disciples. He withheld his blessing that he might enlarge it. Strauss pronounces it immoral in Christ to let his friend die in order to glorify himself by a miracle. In the vocabulary of Strauss, glorification means the gratification of personal vanity, but in the language of Christ it means the revelation of himself as the divine Saviour, that men may believe and receive the blessing of salvation.] 7 Then after this he saith to the disciples, Let us go into Judæa again. [The word "again" refers back to John 10:40. Jesus does not propose to them to return to Bethany, where he has friends, but to go back to Judæa, the land of hostility. In so doing he caused them to think of his death, of which he had some time been seeking to accustom them to think.] 8 The disciples say unto him, Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone thee. [ John 10:31]; and goest thou thither again? 9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If a man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. 10 But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because the light is not in him. [This parabolic expression resembles that at John ix. 4. See Luke 22:53), and then the further prosecution of the work would lead to death, for death was part of the work, and had its allotted time and place.] 11 These things spake he: and after this he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus is fallen asleep; but I go, [520] that I may awake him out of sleep. 12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleepeth, he shall do well. 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death: but they thought that he spake of taking of rest in sleep. [Jesus had before this spoken of death under the figure of sleep (Luke viii. 52, see John 11:4. As it was, they looked upon the mentioned sleep as marking the crisis of the disease, as it so often does in cases of fever. They were glad to urge it as an evidence of complete recovery, and thus remove one of the causes of the dreaded journey into Judæa.] 14 Then Jesus therefore said unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. [Had Jesus been present during the sickness of Lazarus, he would have felt constrained to heal him, and so would have lost the opportunity of presenting to his disciples a more striking proof of his divine power, a proof which has been the joy of each succeeding age. The disciples were soon to learn by sad experience how little belief they really had-- Mark 14:50, Mark 16:11, Luke 24:11, Luke 24:21, Luke 24:25.] 16 Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus [see John 11:8. They could not die with Lazarus, as some have foolishly supposed, for he was already dead. This mention of Thomas is closely connected with the thought in John 11:15. Jesus was about to work a miracle for the express purpose of inducing his disciples to believe in him, especially as to his power over death. In this despairing speech Thomas shows how little faith he had in Christ’s ability to cope with death. Thomas sadly needed to witness the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus, and even after seeing it, it proved insufficient to sustain his faith in the ordeal through which he was about to pass-- John 20:25-29.] 17 So when Jesus came, he found that he had been in the tomb four days already. [If Lazarus was buried on the [521] day he died, as is the custom in the East, and in hot climates generally ( Acts 5:6, Acts 5:10), he probably died on the day that the messengers brought word to Jesus about his sickness. If so, Jesus set forth for Bethany on the third day and arrived there on the fourth. The resurrections wrought by Jesus are progressional manifestations of power. Jairus’ daughter was raised immediately after death, the young man of Nain was being carried to his grave, and Lazarus was buried four days. All these were preparatory to that last and greatest manifestation of resurrectional power--the raising of his own body.] 18 Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off [the furlong, or stadium, was six hundred feet, so that the distance here was one and seven-eighths miles]; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. [These Jews were present four days after the death because Jewish custom prolonged the season of mourning ( Genesis 1:3, Genesis 1:10, Numbers 20:29, Deuteronomy 34:8, 1 Samuel 28:13). The Mishna prescribed seven days for near relatives, and the rules as laid down by rabbis, required seven days’ public and thirty days’ private mourning for distinguished or important personages.] 20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary still sat in the house. [Jesus evidently paused on the outskirts of the town. He probably wished to avoid the noisy conventional wailing, the hypocrisy of which was distasteful to him ( Mark 5:40). It comports with the businesslike character of Martha as depicted by Luke to have heard of our Lord’s arrival before Mary. She was probably discharging her duty towards the guests and new arrivals, as was her wont. See John 11:39. We must therefore look upon her hope as more vague than her [522] words would indicate. Such vague and illusive hopes are common where a great expectation, such as she had before indulged, had but lately departed.] 23 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. 24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. 25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; 26 and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Believest thou this? [Instead of saying "I will raise Lazarus," Jesus uses the wholly impersonal phrase "thy brother shall rise again," for it was this very impersonal feature of faith which he wished to correct. Martha assents to it at once. The doctrine of a resurrection was commonly held by all the Jews except the Sadducees. It was in their view, however, a remote, impersonal affair, a very far distant event powerless to comfort in bereavement. From this comparatively cheerless hope, Jesus would draw Martha to look upon himself as both resurrection and life. Where he is there is life, and there also is resurrection at his word without limitation. No mere man, if sane, could have uttered such words. They mean that Jesus is the power which raises the dead and bestows eternal life-- John 6:39-54, John 10:28.] 27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I have believed that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, even he that cometh into the world. [She could not say she believed it, for Lazarus had believed in Jesus and yet he had died. So, evading the question, she confessed her faith in him. Believing him, she accepted whatever he might say. She responds in the words of that apostolic creed which, in its ultimate application, embraces all that is true and discards all that is false ( Matthew 16:16, John 6:68, John 6:69, John 20:31, 1 John 5:1-5). See Matthew 2:18, Mark 5:38). According to Eastern custom, the Jews followed her as friends, to assist in the demonstration of mourning. This frustrated the effort of Martha to keep secret the Lord’s coming, and caused the miracle to be wrought in the presence of a mixed body of spectators.] 32 Mary therefore, when she came where Jesus was, and saw him, fell down at his feet [in grief and dependence, but with less self-control than Martha], saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. [That both sisters used this phrase, shows that it is an echo of the past feelings and conversations of the sisters. It is clear that they felt hurt at his not coming sooner, as he could have done.] 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping who came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled [The verb translated "groaned" carries in it the idea of indignation. But the fact that sin had brought such misery to those he loved was enough to account for the feeling], 34 and said, Where have ye laid him? [This question was designed to bring all parties to the tomb; it was not asked for information. See Luke 19:41), but here, as a friend, he mingled his quiet tears with the two broken-hearted sisters, thus assuring us of his sympathy with the individual grief of each lowly disciple ( Romans 12:15). Nor did the nearness of comfort prevent his tears. They were tears of sympathy. "A sympathetic physician," says Neander, "in [524] the midst of a family drowned in grief,--will not his tears flow with theirs, though he knows that he has the power of giving immediate relief?"] 36 The Jews therefore said, Behold how he loved him! 37 But some of them said, Could not this man, who opened the eyes of him that was blind, have caused that this man also should not die? [Knowing the miracle which he had performed upon a blind man ( John 9:1-13), they could therefore see no reason why he should not have performed one here.] 38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone lay against it. [These stones were frequently in the shape of large grindstones resting in a groove, so that they could be rolled in front of the door of the tomb. Tombs had to be closed securely to keep out jackals and other ravenous beasts.] 39 Jesus saith, Take ye away the stone. [Miracles only begin where human power ends.] Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time the body decayeth; for he hath been dead four days. [She evidently thought that Jesus wished to see the remains of his friend, and her sisterly feeling prompted her to conceal the humiliating ravages of death. Her words show how little expectation of a resurrection she had.] 40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou believedst, thou shouldest see the glory of God? [Jesus reminds her of his words which are recorded in John 11:25, John 11:26, and of the message which he sent, found in John 11:4, thus removing her objections.] 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou heardest me. 42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the multitude that standeth around I said it, that they may believe that thou didst send me. [Jesus, dwelling in constant communion with the Father, knew that the Father concurred in his wish to raise Lazarus. He therefore makes public acknowledgment, and offers a prayer of thanksgiving, for the Father’s gracious answer to this and all his petitions. He states, too, that the prayer is publicly made [525] that it may induce faith in the bystanders. He wished all present to know that the miracle about to be wrought is not the work of some independent wonder-worker, but is performed by him as one commissioned and sent of God. In other words, the miracle was wrought to prove the concord between the Son and the Father, the very fact which the Jews refused to believe. Rationalists criticize this prayer as a violation of the principle at Matthew 6:5, Matthew 6:6, and Weisse called it "prayer for show." But it shows on its face that it is not uttered by Jesus to draw admiration to himself as a praying man, but to induce faith unto salvation in those who heard.] 43 And when he had thus spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. [The loud cry emphasized the fact that the miracle was wrought by personal authority, and not by charms, incantations, or other questionable means. His voice was as it were an earnest of the final calling which all shall hear ( Revelation 1:5, John 5:28, John 5:29, 1 Thessalonians 4:16). It has been happily said he called Lazarus by name, lest all the dead should rise.] 44 He that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes; and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. [It is thought by some that Lazarus walked forth from the tomb, and the fact that the Egyptians sometimes swathed their mummies so as to keep the limbs and even the fingers separate is cited to show that Lazarus was not so bound as to prevent motion. But the grave-clothes were like a modern shroud, wrapped around arms and legs, and mummies also were thus wrapped after their limbs were swathed. It was part of the miracle that Lazarus came out bound hand and foot, and John puts emphasis upon it.] 45 Many therefore of the Jews, who came to Mary and beheld that which he did, believed on him. 46 But some of them [some of the class mentioned in John 11:37] went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done. [By the miracle Jesus had won many from the ranks of his enemies, but others, alarmed at this deflection, rush off to tell the Pharisees about this new [526] cause for alarm. Farrar argues that these may have gone to the Pharisees with good intentions toward Jesus, but surely no friend of Jesus could have been so hasty to communicate with his enemies. But the way in which the Evangelist separates these from the believers of John 11:45, stamps their action as unquestionably hostile.]

[FFG 519-527]

Verses 47-54


XCIV.
RETIRING BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN’S DECREE.
(Jerusalem and Ephraim in Judæa.)
dJOHN XI. 47-54.

d47 The chief priests therefore and the Pharisees gathered a council [called a meeting of the Sanhedrin], and said, What do we? [Thus they reproach one another for having done nothing in a present and urgent crisis. As two of their number (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathæa) were afterwards in communications with Christians, it was easy for the disciples to find out what occurred on this notable occasion.] for this man doeth many signs. [They did not deny the miracles, therefore their conduct was the more inexcusable.] 48 If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him [they found that despite the threat of excommunication, Jesus was still winning disciples under the very shadow of Jerusalem]: and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. [The course of Jesus seemed to undermine Judaism, and to leave it a prey to the innovations of Rome. It is uncertain what is meant by the noun "place." Meyer says it refers to Jerusalem; Luecke to the temple; while Bengel says that place and nation are a proverbial expression, meaning "our all;" but the Greek language furnishes no example of such proverbial use. It is more likely that place refers to their seats in the Sanhedrin, which they would be likely to lose if the influence of Jesus became, as they feared, the dominant power. They [527] feared then that the Romans would, by removing them, take away the last vestige of civil and ecclesiastical authority, and then eventually obliterate the national life.] 49 But a certain one of them, Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year [that notable, fatal year; he was high priest from A. D. 18 to A. D. 36], said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, 50 Nor do ye account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. [His words are a stinging rebuke, which may be paraphrased thus: "If you had any sense you would not sit there asking, ’What do we?’ when there is but one thing to do; viz.: Let Jesus die and save the people." Expediency, not justice, is his law.] 51 Now this he said not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation; 52 and not for the nation only, but that he might also gather together into one [ Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11] the children of God that are scattered abroad. [The expression "not of himself" is a very common Hebrew idiom for "not of himself only." God had a meaning in his words different from his own. In earlier, better days the high priest had represented the divine headship of the nation, and through him, by means of the Urim and Thummin, the inspired oracles and decisions had been wont to come. This exalted honor had been lost through unworthiness. But now, according to the will of God, the high priest prophesies in spite of himself, as did Balaam and Saul, performing the office without the honor.] 53 So from that day forth they took counsel that they might put him to death. [Thus, acting on the advice of Caiaphas the Sanhedrin condemned Jesus without a hearing and sought means to carry their condemnation to execution. Quieting their consciences by professing to see such political dangers as made it necessary to kill Jesus for the public welfare, they departed utterly from justice, and took the course which brought upon them the very evils which they were professedly seeking to avoid.] 54 Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews, but departed [528] thence into the country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there he tarried with the disciples. [Ephraim is supposed to be the city called Ophrah at Joshua 18:23 and Ephraim at 2 Chronicles 13:19. Dr. Robinson and others identify it with the village now called et Taiybeh, which is situated on a conical-shaped hill about sixteen miles northeast of Jerusalem and five miles east of Bethel. It is on the borders of a wilderness, and commands an extensive view of the Jordan valley. Here Jesus remained till shortly before his last Passover.]

[FFG 527-529]

Verses 55-200


P A R T S E V E N T H.
LAST WEEK OF OUR LORD’S MINISTRY, THE
FOURTH PASSOVER, THE CRUCIFIXION.

CIV.
JESUS ARRIVES AND IS FEASTED AT BETHANY.
(From Friday afternoon till Saturday Night, March 31 and April 1, A. D. 30.)
dJOHN XI. 55-57; XII. 1-11; aMATT. XXVI. 6-13; bMARK XIV. 3-9.

d55 Now the passover of the Jews was at hand: and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the passover, to purify themselves. [These Jews went up before the Passover that they might have time to purify themselves from ceremonial uncleanness before the feast. They were expected to purify before any important event ( Exodus 19:10, Exodus 19:11), and did so before the passover ( 2 Chronicles 30:13-20), for those who were ceremonially unclean were excluded from it-- John 18:28.] 56 They sought therefore for Jesus, and spake one with another, as they stood in the temple, What think ye? That he will not come to the feast? 57 Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given commandment, that, if any man knew where he was, he should show it, that they might take him. [The decree of the Sanhedrin ordering the arrest of Jesus led the people to question as to whether he would dare to approach the city. But this mention of it and the stir and question which it created have a dark significance. It shows that the Jews generally were forewarned of the evil purpose of the Sanhedrin, and the dangers which surrounded Jesus. They were not taken unawares when their rulers told them to raise the cry "Crucify him!" And they raised it after they had due notice and time [568] for deliberation.] d1 Jesus therefore six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus raised from the dead. [The word "therefore" refers to the decree and consequent dangers just mentioned. Because his "hour" had come, Jesus went to face these dangers. We are told that he came to the house of Lazarus and that he kept near Lazarus because these facts emphasized the great miracle which roused the hatred of the Jews, and caused them more earnestly to seek the death of Christ. Jesus appears to have arrived in Bethany Friday afternoon, March 31, A. D. 30. It is likely that he spent the Sabbath day at that place, and that the supper mentioned below was given him after sunset on Saturday, which, according to Jewish reckoning, would be the beginning of Sunday. This supper is mentioned later by Matthew and Mark, but without any note of time to show that it belongs specifically where they put it. But John does give us a note of time. The John 12:12 shows that it was the night before the triumphal entry, and therefore we follow the chronology of John.] 2 So a6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, dthey made him a supper there: ain the house of Simon the leper, dand Martha served; but Lazarus was one of them that sat at meat with him. [Who Simon the leper was is not known. It is not unlikely that he was one whom Jesus had healed, and that he united with the household of Lazarus in a joint effort to show gratitude unto the Lord for his goodness to this group of his friends.] b3 And while he was [there] as he sat at meat, there came aunto him a woman {d3 Mary} ahaving an alabaster cruse of exceeding precious ointment, bof pure nard very costly; d3 Mary therefore took a pound [a litra, a Greek weight containing nearly twelve ounces avoirdupois] of ointment of pure nard, very precious [Nard was a liquid perfume distilled from some odorous plant or plants and mingled with oil. It was sealed in flasks or alabaster boxes and imported from the far East], band she brake the cruse, and poured it over {aupon} bhis head. aas he sat at meat. dand anointed [569] the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair [The cruse seems to have been a long-necked flask sealed with wax so tightly as to necessitate it being broken to extract the nard. These flasks were tasteful and costly objects such as women delight to possess. Many of them were so delicate that Pliny compares them to closed rosebuds, and the same writer, speaking of nard, reckons it as an instance of excessive luxury to anoint the feet or ankles with it]: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. [Thus the liberality of Mary contributed to the pleasure of all the guests. The odor of a good deed is generally diffusive.] 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, that should betray him, saith, 5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred shillings, and given to the poor? 6 Now this he said, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and having the bag took away what was put therein. a8 But when the disciples saw it, they {bthere were some that} had indignation among themselves, asaying, To what purpose is this waste? bTo what purpose hath this waste of the ointment been made? 5 For this ointment might have been sold afor much, bfor above three hundred shillings, and given to the poor. And they murmured against her. [It seems very likely that this murmuring was started by Judas Iscariot, for the murmurers fall in with his notions that the price of the ointment should be deposited in the poor fund. It is a singular thing that Jesus permitted a thief to occupy the office of treasurer. It is probable that Judas was honest when he was called to serve, but that same management and spirit of economy which made him fit for the place ruined him when he got it. Thus our strong points are often our weakest. The price of the pound of nard would be about fifty-one dollars of our money, but the purchasing power of money was then nearly ten times as great as it is now. The price here named agrees almost exactly with the figures at which Pliny rates the most costly nard.] a10 But Jesus perceiving it, dtherefore said, aunto them, bLet her [570] alone; aWhy trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. dSuffer her to keep it against the day of my burying. a12 For in that she poured this ointment upon my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. b8 She hath done what she could; hath anointed my body beforehand for the burying. [The expression "Suffer," etc., used by John, is taken by some as implying that all the ointment was not poured out, and that some of the apostles were endeavoring to persuade Mary to keep and sell what was left, and that Jesus ordered it kept to finish the embalming of his body which Mary had already begun. But there is nothing in the language to require such an interpretation. Jesus meant, "Let her use it rightly," using the word "keep" as in the expression, "keep the feast;" i. e., observe the ceremony. The words of Jesus about the ointment taken as a whole may be construed thus: "The sorrows of my coming passion oppress me ( Matthew 26:38), and Mary, conscious of that sorrow, wishes to cheer me with the evidence of love and gratitude. She sympathizes with me as I approach the shadow of death, and anoints me beforehand for the burial. You do not begrudge what is given to the dead. You do not censure as extravagant what is spent for the embalming of a dear one. You yourselves would be ready enough to anoint me in this same manner after I am dead. So do not censure her because in the fullness of her sympathy she has anticipated the coming catastrophe and has anointed me beforehand."] d8 For the poor ye have always with you [ Deuteronomy 15:11]; band whensoever ye will ye can do them good: but me ye have not always. [There would be plenty of opportunities in which to do good to the poor, but the time for conferring a personal benefit upon Christ in the flesh was now limited to seven days. Thereafter gifts could only be given to Christ by bestowing them upon the poor.] 9 And verily I say unto you, Wheresoever the {athis} gospel shall be preached in {bthroughout} the whole world, that also which this woman hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her. [Jesus here makes [571] prominent the different estimates which God and man place upon the same acts. That which the disciples had censured as a waste and that which they had regarded as worthy of rebuke was in his sight an action fit to be kept in everlasting remembrance as a model for the conduct of future generations throughout the whole earth, and he accordingly decreed that it be so kept in mind.] d9 The common people therefore of the Jews learned that he was there [in Simon’s house]: and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead, 10 But the chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus also to death; 11 because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away [withdrew from the party headed by the Jewish rulers], and believed on Jesus. [The presence of the resurrected man and the Christ who had resurrected him both at one table greatly excited the curiosity of the multitudes who had come up to Jerusalem to attend the passover. When word of this supper spread among the people it was natural that they should slip out to Bethany to see the sight, and it was equally natural that seeing it they should believe in Jesus. This deflection of the common people gave a keener venom to the hatred of the rulers.]

[FFG 568-572]

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website. These files were made available by Mr. Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton. "Commentary on John 11". "The Fourfold Gospel". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tfg/john-11.html. Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1914.