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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
John 11

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1-2

John 11:1-2. Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus — While Jesus was on the other side of Jordan, whither he had retired when he left Jerusalem, a particular friend of his, called Lazarus, fell sick of a very dangerous disorder, at the village of Bethany, near Jerusalem. The town of Mary, and Martha, Lazarus’s sisters — It is probable Lazarus was younger than his sisters, Bethany being named their town, and Lazarus being mentioned after them, John 11:5. Ecclesiastical history informs us, that Lazarus was now thirty years old, and that he lived thirty years after Christ’s ascension. It was that Mary who afterward anointed the Lord with ointment — See John 12:3; and Matthew 26:7. Some commentators have supposed that this refers to the story related by Luke 7:37, &c.; and have argued from thence, that Mary Magdalene, whom they think to be the person there described, as a woman that was a sinner, was the same with this Mary, the sister of Lazarus. But it seems much more probable that John himself should mention the fact that he has here referred to, which, if he has done at all, it must be that which he relates John 12:3, &c., where there can be no doubt that the person who performed this instance of respect to Christ was Mary the sister of Lazarus, who was of Bethany, and therefore must be different from Mary Magdalene, who was of Magdala, a town of Galilee, at a considerable distance. Nor is there any ground from Scripture to conclude, that Mary Magdalene was the person who anointed Christ in Luke, which appears rather to be there described as the action of a woman of Nain, where Christ restored the widow’s son to life. See note on Luke 7:37; Luke 8:2.


Verses 3-6

John 11:3-6. Therefore his sisters — Observing his sickness was of a dangerous kind, and therefore being full of concern for him, knowing where Jesus was, thought proper to send him word of it; for they firmly expected that he, who had cured so many strangers, would willingly come and give health to one whom he so tenderly loved. When Jesus heard this he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God — The event of this sickness will not be death, in the usual sense of the word, a final separation of his soul and body; but a manifestation of the glorious power of God, and a confirmation of the doctrine and mission of his Son. Dr. Campbell renders the clause, will not prove fatal, observing that this reading gives the full import of the Greek expression, ουκ εστι προς θανατον, and at the same time preserves the ambiguity intended. Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister, &c. — That is, he loved them with a peculiar affection, on account of their unfeigned piety toward God, their friendship and affection toward one another, and their faith in him as the Messiah, and had often visited them, and lodged at their house. And, in consequence of his peculiar love to them, he was determined to conduct himself toward them, in their present trying circumstances, in such a manner as he knew would be most for their final advantage, though it might, for a while, be an occasion of greater affliction to them. When he heard therefore that he was sick — Instead of making all possible haste to go to him, and without declaring he had any thoughts of going; he abode two days still — On the other side of Jordan; and in the same place where he was before — This he did not only though he loved them, but because he loved them. He loved them, and therefore he designed to do something great and extraordinary for them; to work such a miracle for their relief, as he had not wrought for any of his friends. If he had gone immediately, and had arrived at Bethany while Lazarus was still alive, and had cured his sickness, he would have done no more for him than he had done for many; if he had come to him, and raised him when he was but just dead, he would have done no more than he had done for some; but deferring his relief so long, he had an opportunity of doing more for him than he had done, or ever should do, for any other. Observe, reader, God hath gracious intentions even in his apparent delays. See Isaiah 54:7-8. Christ’s friends at Bethany were not out of his thoughts, nor was his affection to them lessened, though when he heard of their distress he made no haste to give them relief. “His lingering so long after their message came, did not proceed from want of concern for his friends, but happened according to the counsels of his own wisdom. For the length of time that Lazarus lay in the grave put his death beyond all possibility of doubt, and removed every suspicion of a fraud, and so afforded Jesus a fit opportunity of displaying the love he bare to Lazarus, as well as his own almighty power, in his unquestionable resurrection from the dead. It is true, the sisters were thus kept a while in painful anxiety, on account of their brother’s life, and in the conclusion were pierced with the sorrow of seeing him die. Yet they would think themselves abundantly recompensed by the evidence accruing to the gospel from this astonishing miracle, as well as by the inexpressible surprise of joy which they felt, when they received their brother again from the dead.”


Verses 7-10

John 11:7-10. Then after that — Namely, on the third day; he saith, Let us go into Judea again — When the proper time for setting out for Bethany was come, Jesus desired his disciples to accompany him into Judea. But they expressed some unwillingness to undertake the journey; not imagining that it was proposed on Lazarus’s account, whom they supposed out of danger, because Jesus had said of his sickness, that it was not unto death. His disciples say, The Jews of late sought to stone thee, &c. — It seems the attempts which the inhabitants of Jerusalem lately made upon their Master’s life had frightened them exceedingly. Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? — The Jews always divided the space from sunrise to sunset, whether the days were longer or shorter, into twelve parts, so that the hours of their day were all the year the same in number, though much shorter in winter than in summer. If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not — As the hours of the day are appointed for the various works necessary for human life, and as he who travels in the daytime needs not be afraid of stumbling, because he has the sun, the light of this world, to show him his way; even so the man who has a season allotted him for performing God’s work, and at the same time the light of God’s word showing him what it is, and the divine call requiring him to engage in it, needs not be afraid of any danger he exposes himself to in performing it, God, whom he serves, being always able to preserve him. Jesus, however, intended this to be applied to himself, as if he had said, So there is such a space, a determinate time, which God has allotted me: during that time I stumble not, how many snares soever may be laid for me. But if a man walk in the night — If a man undertake God’s work at an improper season, without a divine call requiring him to undertake it, or without understanding the will of God and his duty: if he has not light from God, through his word and Spirit; and if Divine Providence does no longer protect him; he stumbleth — He may be justly afraid of the danger to which he exposes himself: he will fall into error, sin, and misery. Because there is no light in him — Or rather, in it, as εν αυτω, should be translated, referring to the noun, κοσμου, world, in the end of the preceding verse. For his stumbling in the night is occasioned by the want of that which prevents his stumbling in the day, namely, light, the sun not being above the horizon. Dr. Campbell, however, thinks that, in it, or, in him, is better omitted in English, where it would encumber rather than enlighten the expression. He therefore reads, He stumbleth because there is no light. “By these words,” says Cocceius, “our Lord reminds his disciples that he was the light of the world, and that as long as he was in the world he must necessarily shine; and that there was no danger if they walked with him; he also hints hereby the stated time fixed for him to be in the world, and the consequent darkness of those who should reject his light, and not walk in it, which they should enjoy always, who obeyed his word and followed his example.”


Verses 11-13

John 11:11-13. These things said he — To silence their objections, and prepare their minds for what he yet concealed; and after that, as he perfectly knew what had passed at Bethany, though so many miles distant from it, he saith, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth — This, it is probable, he spoke just when he died. Sleepeth — Thus our Lord speaks, partly out of tenderness to his apostles, as being least shocking when he spoke of so dear a friend; and partly because the death of good men is only sleep, in the language of heaven. But the disciples did not yet understand this language. And the slowness of our understanding in divine things causes the Scripture often to descend to our barbarous manner of speaking. But I go that I may awake him out of sleep — Referring to that raising him from the dead, which he intended quickly to effect. Mr. Blackwall, in his Sacred Classics, (vol. 1. page 297,) mentions the manner of speaking used here by our Lord, as an instance of his great modesty, as he does not immediately say, “He is dead, and I go by my almighty power to burst the bonds of the sepulchre, and to command him back to life again;” but, avoiding all parade and ostentation, he chooses the most simple and humble expression that can be thought of. Then said his disciples — Not apprehending his meaning; Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well — Understanding his words in a literal sense, they replied that they took his sleeping as a symptom of his speedy recovery; and by so saying intimated that there was no need of their going into Judea on Lazarus’s account. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death — But the real meaning of what Jesus said was, that Lazarus was dead, though his words were such that the disciples understood him as speaking of natural sleep.


Verses 14-16

John 11:14-16. Then said Jesus plainly — That he might not hold them any longer in suspense, or permit them to remain under a mistake; Lazarus is indeed dead: and — As I could not have permitted this to have happened in my presence, I am glad for your sakes — That your faith may be more fully confirmed, by a further remarkable display of my divine power; that I was not there — That I was not in Judea before he died; for had I been there, and recovered him, your faith in me, as the Messiah, must have wanted that great confirmation which it shall soon receive. Nevertheless — Although he be dead, or, therefore, as the particle αλλα is used, Acts 10:20; and Acts 26:16; let us go unto him — To Bethany, where he lies dead. Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus — Thomas in Hebrew, as Didymus in Greek, signifies a twin; Let us also go, that we may die with him — With Jesus, whom he supposed the Jews would kill. It seems to be the language of despair. “Thus,” as Dr. Lardner has remarked, “Jesus, who could have raised Lazarus from the dead without opening his lips, or rising from his seat, leaves the place of his retirement beyond Jordan, and takes a long journey into Judea, where the Jews lately attempted to kill him. The reason was, his being present in person, and raising Lazarus to life again, before so many witnesses at Bethany, where he died, and was well known, would be the means of bringing the men of that and future ages to believe in him and his doctrine, which is so well fitted to prepare mankind for a resurrection to eternal life, an admirable proof and emblem of which he gave them in this great miracle.”


Verses 17-19

John 11:17-19. When Jesus came, he found — When Jesus and his disciples were come nigh to Bethany, they were told by some of the inhabitants, whom, it seems, they met accidentally, that Lazarus had been buried four days. Therefore, as a day or two must have been spent in making preparation for the burial, he could not well be less than five days dead when Jesus arrived. Now Bethany — The place where Lazarus had lived; was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off — Or somewhat less than two miles: so that he was well known in the city, had many friends there; and many of the Jews, who dwelt there, came to Martha and Mary When the funeral was over; that they might comfort them — In their trouble for the loss of their brother. “The evangelist mentions the vicinity of Bethany to Jerusalem, and speaks of the company of friends that were with the two sisters, to show that by the direction of Providence this great miracle had many witnesses, some of whom were persons of note, and inhabitants of Jerusalem.”


Verses 20-22

John 11:20-22. Then Martha, &c. — Jesus was no sooner come into the neighbourhood, but presently the news of his approach was brought to the afflicted family, that had so long impatiently desired to see him. Martha, therefore, immediately went out; and, being told what way he was coming, soon met him: but Mary sat still in the house — Probably not hearing of his coming: for Martha, overjoyed at the news of his approach, did not take time to tell her sister of it, but went out in all haste. Her intention, no doubt, was to welcome him; but being in an excess of grief, the first thing she uttered was a complaint that he had not come sooner, saying, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died — In which words she shows both the strength and weakness of her faith. 1st, The strength of it, in that she believed Christ’s power was such, that though her brother’s sickness was very grievous, yet he could have cured it, and so have prevented his death; and that his goodness was such, that if he had been present, and seen Lazarus in his extreme illness, and his dear relations all in tears about him, he would have had compassion, and have prevented so sad a breach upon the peace and comfort of the family. 2d, Her words show also the weakness of her faith; for she limits the power of Christ in saying, If thou hadst been here; whereas she ought to have known that Christ could cure at a distance, and that his gracious operations were not confined to his bodily presence. She reflects likewise on the wisdom and kindness of Christ, because he had not hastened to them when they sent for him, intimating that by delaying to come, she thought he had neglected to save her brother’s life. She, however, corrects and comforts herself with the consideration of the prevailing interest which Christ had in heaven, adding, But I know that even now — Though he be dead; whatsoever thou wilt ask of God — Whatsoever thou shalt think proper to ask; God will give it thee Will assuredly grant thy request, how great soever the favour may be which thou askest: thus intimating, that she believed his prayer might yet restore her brother to life. She has not courage, however, to ask Jesus that he would pray to his Father for such an extraordinary exertion of divine power to be displayed on their behalf, there having yet been no precedent of any one being raised who had been so long dead: but, like a modest petitioner, she humbly recommends their case to the wise and compassionate consideration of Jesus. Thus when we know not what in particular to ask, or expect, let us, in general, refer ourselves to God; let him do as seemeth him good. And let it comfort us to be assured, when we are in doubt what to pray for, that our great Intercessor knows what to ask for us, and is always heard. But we have in this latter sentence, uttered by Martha on this occasion, a further proof, as of the strength, so also of the weakness of her faith: she believed Jesus could obtain of God by prayer whatever he should think fit to ask, even the restoration of her brother to life, though he had been so many days dead, but she did not believe that he himself could raise him; forgetting, or not considering, that he had life in himself, yea, was the Prince of life and Conqueror of death. She founded her hopes of her brother’s resurrection, so far as she entertained any hopes of so wonderful an event, not on Christ’s own power, but on the power of God, to be exerted at his intercession.


Verse 23-24

John 11:23-24. Jesus — Beholding her distress with a compassionate concern; saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again — Martha, in her complaint, looked back, reflecting with regret that Christ had not come before her brother’s death, and thinking, if he had, her brother would have been now alive. And we are very apt, in such cases, like her, to add to our trouble, by fancying what might have been, if we had taken other measures or used other means, had employed certain physicians, or administered some particular medicines. But, alas! what use is there in such reflections, when God’s will is done, and our duty is to submit to it? Christ directs Martha, and us in her, to look forward, and to think what shall be, for that yields sure comfort: Thy brother shall rise again. Here observe, 1st, This was true of Lazarus in a sense peculiar to him; he was now immediately to be raised. Christ, however, does not say this in express words, much less that he himself should effect his resurrection, (for humility was a distinguishing trait in his character,) but, for the further trial of her faith and patience, he speaks ambiguously, and leaves her in uncertainty whether he should be raised presently, or not till the last day. 2d, It is applicable to all the saints, and the future resurrection. And it is surely matter of comfort to us, when we have buried our godly friends and relations, to believe and consider that they shall rise again; and that, as the soul at death is not lost, but gone before, so the body is not lost, but laid up. Let us think we hear Christ saying, Thy father, thy mother, thy wife, thy husband, thy child, shall rise again; these dry bones shall live! Martha — Not daring to understand him in a sense that favoured her wishes, namely, that he should be raised immediately; said, I know that he shall rise again at the last day

Though the doctrine of a general resurrection was to have its full proof from Christ’s resurrection, yet, as it had been revealed in the Old Testament, she firmly believed it, as the pious Jews in general did, Acts 24:15; yet she seems to think this doctrine not so important, or calculated to comfort mourners on the death of their relatives, as it really was. For her words seem to imply, Though I know he shall rise again at the last day, yet that affords us but little support now, in the distressing bereavement that we have experienced: as if the blessing of a resurrection to eternal life were not of much greater importance, and much more replete with comfort to a truly pious person, than any recovery from sickness, or restoration to temporal health or life, in this present world of trial and trouble. Alas! that we should be so weak and foolish, as to suffer present, sensible things, to make a deeper impression upon us, both of grief and joy, than those spiritual and eternal things which are the great objects of faith and hope! I know that he shall rise again at the last day — And is not that sufficient? She seems not to think it is. Thus, by our discontent under our present trials, we greatly undervalue our future expectations, and put a slight upon them, as if they were not worth regarding.


Verse 25

John 11:25. Jesus said, I am the resurrection — The author and cause of the resurrection of the dead; and the life — The source of life, natural, spiritual, and eternal; of the living, both in the present world and in the world to come. Martha believed that in answer to his prayer God would give any thing; but he would have her to know that by his power he could effect any thing. Martha believed a resurrection to take place at the last day; but Christ tells her he had now the power whereby it should be effected lodged in his hands: from whence it was easy to infer, that he who could raise the world of men that had been dead many ages, could, doubtless, raise one man that had been dead only a few days. Observe, reader, it ought to be a source of unspeakable comfort to us, that Christ is the resurrection and the life, and that he will be such to us, if we be his true disciples. A resurrection is a return to life, and Christ is the author of that return. We profess, in the Creed, to look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Let us remember, then, that Christ is the author and principle of both; and that our hope of both must be built on him. Jesus proceeds: He that believeth in me — With a faith overcoming the world, (1 John 5:4-5,) and purifying the heart; (Acts 15:9;) though he were dead — Or, though he should die, as καν αποθανη is properly rendered; yet shall he live — Not only shall his soul survive the death of his body, and continue immortal, but, ere long, his reanimated body shall be again united to that soul; and even at present I can loose the bonds of death, and though thy brother now is holden by them, I can recall him when I please. Observe well, reader, to whom this promise is made; namely, to them that believe in Christ Jesus, to them that consent to, and confide in him, as the only Mediator of reconciliation and of intercourse between God and man; that receive the record God has given in his word concerning his Son; who sincerely comply with it, and answer all the great and gracious intentions of it. Both the promise and the conditions are further explained in the next verse.


Verse 26

John 11:26. And whosoever liveth — That Isaiah , 1 st, A natural life; whosoever lives in this world, whether he be Jew or Gentile, and wherever, in whatever country or age he lives; and believeth — That is, believeth while he liveth in this world, while he is here, in this state of probation; for, after death, it will be too late to believe. Or, 2d, Whosoever believeth, and liveth a spiritual life, and continues to believe, that he may continue so to live. For he that lives and believes, is he that lives by faith, a faith that influences his conversation: he that, by faith, is born again to a heavenly, holy, and divine life; to whom, to live is Christ, and whose life is continually derived from Christ. Such a one shall never die — A promise this which ensures a blessed immortality, 1st, To the soul: he who, being united to Christ by faith, lives a spiritual life by virtue of that union, shall never die; his spiritual life shall never be extinguished, but perfected in eternal life. For, as the soul, being in its nature spiritual, is therefore immortal; so, if by faith it live here a spiritual life, consonant to its nature, its felicity shall be immortal too. And there shall be no interruption of its life, as there is of the life of the body. The body indeed dies, or sleeps rather, but not for ever, as the original expression here used, ου μη αποθανη, εις τον αιωνα, applied to it, is rendered by some. For, 2d, This promise ensures future life and happiness to it also. All the difficulties that attend the state of the dead are here overlooked by our Lord, and made nothing of, while he speaks of himself as the resurrection and the life. Though the body be dead because of sin; though the sentence of death passed upon it be just; though the effects of death be dismal; though the bands of death be strong; though the body be not only dead, but putrefied; though the scattered dust be so mixed with common dust, that no art of man can distinguish, much less separate them; yet we are sure it shall live again. Christ asks Martha, Believest thou this? — Canst thou take my word for it, and rely firmly on its accomplishment? Reader, when we hear the word of Christ concerning the great things of the other world, we should seriously ask ourselves, Do we believe this? This truth in particular; this, which is attended with so many difficulties; this, which is suited to my case? Doth my belief of it realize it to me, and give my soul an assurance of it? so that I can say, not only this I believe, but thus I believe. Martha’s mind was occupied with the idea of her brother’s being raised to life in this world; before Christ gave her hopes of that, he directed her thoughts to another life, and another world. As if he had said, That is of comparatively little importance, but believest thou this that I tell thee concerning a future state? The crosses and comforts of this present time would not make half that impression upon us which they do, if we did but believe the things of eternity as we ought.


Verse 27

John 11:27. She saith, Yea, Lord — I am fully persuaded of the truth of thy declaration; for I believe that thou art the Christ, &c. — Here we have Martha’s good confession, the same with that for which Peter was commended, Matthew 16:16-17, where see the notes. Dr. Campbell reads, I believe that thou art the Messiah, the Son of God, he who cometh into the world; observing that the passage contains three titles, which should be distinctly marked as three different denominations, or descriptions, by which the same great personage was distinguished; and that the last two of them are improperly compounded into one in our translation. He observes, also, that the last-mentioned title is not properly, he who should come, but, he who cometh. By replying, that she believed him to be the promised Messiah, Martha intimated that she confided implicitly in every thing he said, and that there was no instance of power whatsoever, which he was pleased to claim, that exceeded her belief. Probably she began to entertain some confused expectation of her brother’s immediate resurrection; although afterward, when she considered the greatness of the thing more deliberately, many doubts arose in her mind concerning it, John 11:39.


Verses 28-35

John 11:28-35. When she had so said — When she had testified her faith, as in the preceding verse; she went and called Mary — Jesus having inquired for her, as is implied in the next words, designing that she and her companions should likewise have the honour and comfort of being present at the stupendous miracle which he was about to perform. As soon as she (Mary) heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him — Without speaking a word to the company of friends, who, because she was of a softer disposition than her sister, paid a special attention to her grief; remaining with her in the house after Martha was gone out, and when she went out following her: lest she should be going to the grave to weep there. In consequence of this, they were naturally led to be eye-witnesses of all that followed. When Mary came to Jesus, being greatly affected at the sight of him in the present circumstances of their distress, she fell down at his feet — As one overwhelmed with sorrow, and with many tears, (as appears, John 11:33,) expressed herself as Martha had done before; Lord, if thou hadst been here, &c. — For they had often said this to one another. She was so overcome with grief that she could utter no more. She had sat at Christ’s feet to hear his word: but now she is at his feet on a different errand. Such are the changes in human life! Observe, reader, those that in a day of peace place themselves at Christ’s feet, to receive instruction from him, may with confidence and comfort cast themselves at his feet in a day of trouble, with hope of finding favour with him. When Jesus saw her weeping, &c. — When he beheld Martha and Mary, and their companions around him, all in tears, the tender feelings of love, and pity, and friendship moved him in a high degree; for his compassionate heart could not contemplate the distress of the two affectionate sisters, and that of their friends, without having a deep share in it. He therefore groaned in spirit, and was troubled — Greek, εταραξεν εαυτον, he troubled himself: an expression, both elegant and full of the highest propriety. For (as Bengelius observes) the affections of Jesus were not properly passions, but voluntary emotions, which were wholly in his own power. And this tender trouble which he now voluntarily sustained, was full of the highest order and reason. And — That he might keep them in suspense no longer, but, going to the grave, might give them immediate relief, by bringing him to life again; he asks, Where have ye laid him? — He knew where he was laid, and yet asks, because, 1st, He would thus express himself as a man, even then, when he was going to exert the power of God; non nescit sed quasi nescit, saith Austin here, he was not ignorant where he was laid, but he speaks as if he were ignorant. 2d, He would thus divert the grief of his mourning friends, by raising their expectation of his doing something great. They say, Lord, come and see — Perhaps indulging some uncertain hope of what was afterward done. Jesus wept — In remembrance of the dead, and out of sympathy with the living, as well as from a deep sense of the misery which sin had brought upon human nature. “In this grief of the Son of God,” says Macknight, “there was a greatness and generosity, not to say an amiableness of disposition, infinitely nobler than that which the Stoic philosophers aimed at, in their so much boasted apathy.”


Verse 36-37

John 11:36-37. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him — They seem to wonder he should have so strong an affection for one to whom he was not related, and with whom he had not had a long acquaintance, having spent most of his time in Galilee, at a great distance from Bethany. It becomes us, according to this example of Christ, to show our love to our friends, both living and dying. We must sorrow for our brethren that sleep in Jesus, as those that are full of love, though not void of hope; for though our tears profit not the dead, they embalm their memory. Christ’s tears, at the grave of Lazarus, were indications of his particular love to him; but he has given proofs, no less evident, of his love to all the saints, in that he died for them. Did these Jews, when they saw him shedding tears over the dead body of Lazarus, say, See how he loved him? How much more reason have we, for whom he laid down his life, to say, See how he loved us! And some said, Could not this man, &c. — “Some of them, however, interpreted this circumstance to his disadvantage; for, according to their mean way of judging, they fancied that he had suffered him to fall under the stroke of death for no other reason but want of power to rescue him. And, thinking the miracle, said to have been wrought on the blind man during the feast of tabernacles, at least as difficult as the curing of an acute distemper, they called the former in question, because the latter had been neglected. If, said they, he has really opened the eyes of the blind, might he not have preserved this man from death?” Thus, when he was dying, because he did not save himself and come down from the cross, they concluded he could not; not considering that divine power is always directed in its operations by divine wisdom, not merely according to his will, but according to the counsel of his will, wherein it becomes us to acquiesce. If Christ’s friends, whom he loves, die; if his church, which he loves, be persecuted and afflicted, we must not impute these things to any defect, either in his power or love, but conclude that he permits them to happen, because he sees it to be for the best that they should. Jesus soon showed these whisperers, by raising Lazarus from the dead, that he could have prevented his death, but therefore did not, because he would glorify himself the more by doing a greater work than curing his disorder. So hard, however, were the hearts of many of these Jews, that, not withstanding the great miracle which they were now about to see Jesus perform, they would persist in their infidelity still. And Jesus, who knew the discourses which they now held among themselves in private concerning him, being likewise fully acquainted with their obstinacy, and foreseeing the miseries in which their unbelief would involve them, was still more afflicted, and groaned again in himself as he went to the grave.


Verses 38-40

John 11:38-40. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it — Or, as Dr. Campbell reads, shut up with a stone. The graves of the common people probably were digged like ours, but persons of distinction were, as with us, interred in vaults. So Lazarus was; and such was the sepulchre in which Christ was buried. See note on Matthew 27:60. Probably this custom was kept up among the Jews in imitation of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their wives, except Rachel, being buried in the cave of Machpelah, Genesis 49:29-31. These caves were commonly in rocks, which abounded in that country, either hollowed by nature, or hewn by art. And the entrance was shut up with a great stone, which sometimes had a monumental inscription. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone — Our Lord, says Bishop Hall, “could with infinite ease have commanded the stone to roll away of itself, without employing any to remove it; but he judiciously avoided all unnecessary pomp and parade, and mingled all the majesty of this astonishing miracle with the most amiable modesty and simplicity.” Besides, he thus removed the minutest suspicion of fraud, for they who removed the stone would, from the putrefied state of the body, have sufficient evidence that it was there, dead; while all who were present might, and no doubt did, see it lying in the sepulchre when the stone was removed, before Jesus gave the commanding word, Come forth. Martha said, Lord, by this time he stinketh — Thus did reason and faith struggle together; for he hath been dead four days — The word dead is not in the original, which is only, τεταρταιος γαρ εστι, for he hath been four days, namely, in the grave, and not four days dead only. That this was Martha’s meaning is evident from John 11:17, where it is said, that when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had laid in the grave four days already; and therefore he must have been dead at least five or six, for a day or two must have been spent in making preparation for the burial. “Providence directed Martha to mention this circumstance before Lazarus was raised, that the greatness of the miracle might be manifest to all who were present. It is beautiful to observe the gradation that was in the resurrections of the dead effected by our Lord. The first person whom he raised, namely, Jairus’s daughter, had been in the state of the dead only a few hours; the second, the widow of Nain’s son, was raised as his friends were carrying him out to burial. But when Jesus recalled Lazarus to life, he had been in the grave no less than four days; and therefore, according to our way of apprehending things, his resurrection was the greatest miracle of the three. As Peter Chrysologus observes, ‘the whole power of death was accomplished upon him; the whole power of the resurrection showed forth in him.’” — Macknight. Jesus saith, Said I not unto thee — It appears by this that Christ had said more to Martha than is before recorded; if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God — Remarkably displayed in a work of signal mercy and power.


Verses 41-43

John 11:41-43. Then they took away the stone — As Jesus had directed; from the place where the dead was laid — From the mouth of the tomb. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, &c. — To show them who stood by, and viewed him as a mere man, from whence he derived his power; and that he did not do his miracles by any ability in his mere human nature. Thus he says, Matthew 12:28, that he cast out devils by the Spirit of God; and, Luke 12:20, by the finger, or power, of God; and, John 14:10, that the Father, who dwelt in him, namely, the eternal Word and Spirit of the Father, did the works. And said, Father, I thank thee — “On many occasions Jesus had publicly appealed to his own miracles, as the proofs of his mission; but he did not ordinarily make a formal address to his Father before he wrought them; though to have done so, would have showed from whence he derived his authority. Nevertheless, being about to raise Lazarus from the dead, he prayed for his resurrection, to make the persons present sensible that in working his miracles, he [as man] acted by the assistance, not of devils, as his enemies maliciously affirmed, but of God; and that this miracle, in particular, could not be effected without an immediate interposition of the divine power. The evangelist, it is true, does not say directly, either that Jesus prayed, or that he prayed for this end. But the thanksgiving, which he tells us he offered up, implies both.” — Macknight. I know that thou hearest me always — And art most ready to answer all my petitions. Jesus had access to his Father on every occasion, and success with him in every errand. And we may be sure his interest with God is not the less for his going to heaven; which may encourage us to depend on his intercession for us, and to put all our petitions into his hand, for we are sure that the Father hears him always. Because of the people which stand by I said it, &c. — I did not pray for my own sake, as if I had entertained any doubt of having power to do this miracle; (see John 5:19-26;) but I prayed for the people’s sake, to make them sensible that thou lovest me, hast sent me, and art continually with me; and that I do all in union with thee, and nothing of myself, without, or separate from thee. And when he had thus spoken, he cried with a loud voice — Suitable to the majestic part which he was now acting, and the dominion he had, even in the empire of death itself, as well as that it might appear to all present, that even the dead were subject to his voice; Lazarus, come forth — He could have raised Lazarus by a silent exertion of his will and power, and the undiscernible operation of the Spirit of life; but he did it by a call, a loud call, to signify the power then put forth for the raising of Lazarus, and the greatness of the work.


Verse 44

John 11:44. And he that was dead — Greek, ο τεθνη κως, he that had been dead; came forth — “The dead man heard the voice of the Son of God, and came forth immediately. For he did not revive slowly, and by degrees, as the dead child did which was raised by the Prophet Elisha; but the effect instantly following the command, plainly showed whose the power was that reanimated the breathless clay.” As the people present were not so much as thinking of a resurrection, they must have been greatly “surprised when they heard our Lord pray for it. The cry, Lazarus, come forth, must have astonished them still more, and raised their curiosity to a prodigious pitch. But when they saw him spring out alive and in perfect health, that had been rotting in the grave four days, they could not but be agitated with many different passions, and overwhelmed with inexpressible amazement.” Bound hand and foot with grave-clothes — Which were wrapped round each hand and each foot. And his face was bound about with a napkin

If the Jews buried as the Egyptians did, the face was not covered with it, but it only went round the forehead, and under the chin, so that he might easily see his way. “It would have been the least part of the miracle, had Jesus made the rollers, wherewith Lazarus was bound, unloose themselves from around his body before he came forth. But he brought him out just as he was lying, and ordered the spectators to loose him, that they might be the better convinced of the miracle.” Accordingly, in taking off the grave- clothes, they had the fullest evidence, both of his death and resurrection. For, on the one hand, in stripping him, the linen would offer both to their eyes and smell abundant proofs of his putrefaction, (John 11:39,) and by that means convince them that he had not been in a deliquium, but was really departed: and on the other, by his lively countenance appearing when the napkin was removed, his fresh colour, his active vigour, and his brisk walking, they who came near him and handled him, were made sensible that he was in perfect health, and had an opportunity to try the truth of the miracle, by the closest examination.

“Every reader must be sensible, that there is something incomparably beautiful in the whole of our Lord’s behaviour on this occasion. After having given such an astonishing instance of his power, he did not speak one word in his own praise, either directly or indirectly. He did not chide the disciples for their unwillingness to accompany him into Judea. He did not rebuke the Jews for having, in former instances, maliciously detracted from the lustre of his miracles, every one of which derived additional credit from this incontestable wonder. He did not say how much they were to blame for persisting in their infidelity, though he well knew what they would do. He did not intimate, even in the most distant manner, the obligations which Lazarus and his sisters were laid under by this signal favour. He did not upbraid Martha and Mary with the discontent they had expressed, at his having delayed to come to the relief of their brother. Nay, he did not so much as put them in mind of the mean notion they had entertained of his power; but, always consistent with himself, he was on this, as on every other occasion, a pattern of perfect humility and absolute self-denial.” — Macknight.


Verse 45-46

John 11:45-46. Then many of the Jews, which came with Mary — And were eye-witnesses of this illustrious miracle; believed on him — As the Messiah. Indeed, so incontestable a proof of his power and authority left them no room to doubt of his character. They knew that no impostor could perform any miracle; and so great a one as the resurrection of a person who had been in the grave four days was a miracle worthy of the Messiah himself. Willing, therefore, to know the truth, they yielded to the force of this evidence, and it is marvellous that all present did not yield to it; for, considering the nature and circumstances of this wonderful display of divine power, it surely ought to have silenced the peevishness of cavilling, overcome the obstinacy of prejudice, and put to shame the impudence of malice in every one that was a witness of it. And we may well be astonished to find that the cry, Lazarus, come forth, did not produce on all present an effect somewhat similar to that which it had on Lazarus. It raised him from the natural death, and one would suppose might have raised the most stupid of the spectators from the spiritual, by working in them the living principle of saving faith. But, alas! this was not the case. For, some of them — Blinded by prejudice, and that spirit of the world which is enmity against God, departed from this astonishing spectacle as firmly resolved to oppose Jesus as ever; they went their ways to the Pharisees — Namely, the chiefs of the sect who lived in the city; and told them what things Jesus had done — In order, as is evident, to induce them to take such measures as might crush Christ’s growing reputation. What a dreadful confirmation of that weighty truth, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead!


Verse 47-48

John 11:47-48. Then gathered the chief priests, &c. — “The account which these men gave of Lazarus’s resurrection, raised the indignation of the rulers to the highest pitch. They called a council forthwith, and after consultation blamed one another for having suffered Jesus to go so long unpunished. But this miracle being too evident to be denied, as all his miracles indeed were, they did not, even in their most private conferences, say or intimate to one another, that their displeasure and opposition proceeded from his passing false miracles upon the ignorant vulgar. They rather condemned him upon the truth and notoriety of his miracles; pretending that they were designed to establish a new sect in religion, which might endanger, not their church only, but their state.” They said, What do we? — What, indeed? Why, you resist the truth, confirmed by the most astonishing and convincing miracles ever wrought: you show that death itself yields to the power of Christ sooner than infidelity. For this man doeth many miracles — Thus, though they were his sworn enemies, they could not help giving him an ample testimony, even in full court. If we let him thus alone — If we suffer him to go on thus uncontrolled. But how can you prevent his going on? How can you control one who walks on the water, calms the winds and waves with a word, and with a word cleanses the lepers, heals the sick, and raises the dead? All men will believe on him — And ought they not? Will they not be justified if they do, nay, and inexcusable if they do not? And are not you inexcusable in not believing on him? Surely for this very reason, that he does so many miracles, all salutary and tending to the good of mankind, and with such evidence of a divine power as you yourselves think is likely to draw all men to believe in him, you should acknowledge him to be the true Messiah, and profess yourselves his disciples, subjects, and servants. But the Romans will come — If we suffer this man to proceed thus, and continually to increase the number of his followers, it will give such umbrage to the Romans, that, on pretence of an insurrection being raised in the country, they will send a powerful army and destroy both our place, our temple, and nation — Both our church and state. Will overturn both our religious and civil constitution. Were they really afraid of this? or was it a mere pretence, a fair colour only for their conduct? Certainly it was no more. For they could not but know, that he who raised the dead was able to conquer the Romans. They entered, however, at this time, immediately after this most astonishing of all Christ’s miracles, this most convincing of all the evidences he had given of his being the Messiah, into a resolution of putting him to death at all hazards. “But those politicians were taken in their own craftiness; for while they proposed, by killing Jesus, to avoid the destruction of their temple and city, the sin which they committed in killing him was so great, that God, in his just indignation, made the very people, whose resentment they proposed to avoid by this wicked measure, the instruments of his vengeance. He brought the Roman armies against them, who destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city; leaving, in that dreadful catastrophe, an awful warning to all statesmen, to beware of prosecuting unjust measures, on pretence of consulting the good of the nation, whose affairs they direct.” — Macknight.


Verses 49-52

John 11:49-52. One of them, named Caiaphas, &c. — While some of the council seemed apprehensive of the danger of attempting any thing against Jesus, and, as is probable from John 12:42, urged the unlawfulness of what was proposed to be done, from the consideration of Christ’s innocence and miracles, Caiaphas, who, among the many sudden revolutions which happened in the government about that time, was high- priest that year — That memorable year in which Christ was to die; said unto them, Ye know nothing at all — Of what the present urgency of affairs requires. He reproves their slow deliberation in so clear a case; and treats them as persons unacquainted with the nature of government, which, he signified, required that certain acts of injustice should not be scrupled at, when they were expedient for the safety of the state: and that they might easily find out a remedy for their present perplexity in the death of this Jesus, who occasioned such an alarm. It is justly observed by Dr. Campbell, that it was not with ignorance of the subject about which they were deliberating, the doctrine and miracles of our Lord, nor with ignorance of the law, for the punishment of offenders of all denominations, that Caiaphas here upbraids them, but with the want of political wisdom. They were in perplexity; he signified, they knew not what to resolve upon, or what measure to adopt in a case which was extremely clear: namely, “that though their putting Jesus to death could not be vindicated by strict law or justice, it might be vindicated from expediency and reasons of state; or, rather, from the great law of necessity, the danger being no less than the destruction of their country, and so imminent, that even the murder of an innocent man (admitting Jesus to be innocent) was not to be considered as an evil, but rather as a sacrifice every way proper for the safety of the nation. May we not reasonably conjecture, that such a manner of arguing must have arisen from objections made by Nicodemus, who, as we learn from John 7:50, &c., was not afraid to object to them the illegality of their proceedings? or, by Joseph of Arimathea, who was also one of them, and concerning whom we have this honourable testimony, (Luke 22:50-51,) that he did not concur in their resolutions?” It is expedient that one man should die for the people — Doubtless, Caiaphas said this from a principle of human policy; nevertheless, the evangelist assures us, that his tongue was overruled by God to speak these words, and that, in uttering them, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation — The nation of the Jews; and that he should gather together in one — Namely, in one church; the children of God that were scattered abroad — Through all nations and ages. That is, as God was wont anciently to communicate his oracles to the high-priest, clothed with the pontifical garments; so he inspired these words into Caiaphas, who now bore that office, though he was not sensible himself of the inspiration, and meant what he said in a different sense from what God intended should be signified by it. And thus Caiaphas gave, unawares, as clear a testimony to the priestly, as Pilate did to the kingly, office of Christ.


Verse 53-54

John 11:53-54. Then, from that day, they took counsel, &c. — The majority of the council having resolved to put Jesus to death at all hazards, they consulted no longer upon that point, but from henceforth deliberated only concerning the best method of effecting it. Jesus therefore walked no more openly, &c. — Hence, though he was within two miles of Jerusalem, he did not go up thither at this time, but returned to Ephraim, a city upon the borders of the wilderness, where he abode with his disciples, being unwilling to go far away, because the passover, at which he was to suffer, approached.


Verses 55-57

John 11:55-57. And — Soon after this; the Jews’ passover was nigh — The last passover that Christ attended; and many — From all parts of the country; went up to Jerusalem — Some little time before the commencement of the feast; to purify themselves — By certain preparatory sacrifices and ceremonies, that they might be ready to eat the passover. Those who were under any legal incapacity of celebrating the great solemnities of the Jewish religion, usually went up to Jerusalem before the feast to cleanse themselves, by offering the appointed oblations for their purification. For they who had committed sins which were to be expiated by sacrifices, were not obliged to travel instantly to Jerusalem to offer them, but might defer the doing it till the next feast, at which they were obliged to be present. Moreover, those who were under vows of Nazaritism, usually ordered matters so, that those vows were concluded at one of the great feasts. These things occasioned a great concourse of people at Jerusalem before the feasts, and especially before the passover. And, as the time necessary for many purifications was seven days, when Jesus came to the city at this season, six days before the passover, (John 12:1; John 12:9; John 12:12,) he found great multitudes there. Then sought they for Jesus — Some of them being desirous to see and hear him, and others, perhaps, wanting to discover him to his avowed enemies, the Pharisees: and, as it could not but be generally known, that the surprising miracles which he had lately wrought had very much inflamed the rage and envy of his persecutors, many of the people were in doubt whether he would venture to appear in public; and spake among themselves as they stood in the temple — Where they were performing the rites of their worship; What think ye — Respecting his coming to the passover? Do you suppose that, after this alarm, he will not have courage to come? Now both the chief priests and Pharisees — Concluding that he would not fail to come according to his usual custom, no longer dissembling their malice; had given a commandment — Or issued a proclamation; that if any man knew where he was, he should — Immediately; show it, that they might take him — Might apprehend, and bring him to his trial, as a disturber of the public peace, and a person dangerous to the state. Thus did these wicked rulers, through the restless, causeless, and incorrigible malice that was in their hearts against the Son of God, labour to involve others with themselves in the guilt of murdering him: and if they could find any man capable of betraying him, they wished to persuade him that it was his duty to do it! But notwithstanding their proclamation, though doubtless many knew where he was, yet such was his interest in the affections of some, and such God’s hold on the consciences of others, that he continued undiscovered.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on John 11:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/john-11.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, August 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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