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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
John 11

 

 

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Verse 1

John 11:1. Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus, of Bethany, from the village of Mary and her sister Martha. The scene of the miracle to be related in this chapter is Bethany, a village (now small and poor) about two miles south-east of Jerusalem over the southern shoulder of the Mount of Olives. Neither here nor in chap. John 1:44 is the use of the two prepositions ‘of’ and ‘from’ intended to point to two different places, one the present abode, the other the original home; but Bethany itself is ‘the village of Mary and her sister Martha.’ The circumstance referred to in John 11:2 probably accounts for the prior mention of Mary, for Martha appears to have been the elder sister (see Luke 10:38). The name Lazarus is Hebrew (a shortened form of Eleazar) but with a Greek termination.


Verses 1-44

The manifestation of Jesus by Himself is about to terminate so far at least as the world is concerned, and it does so in His revealing Himself as the Resurrection and the Life, the Conqueror of death in the very height of its power. The raising of Lazarus illustrates this. The account as a whole divides itself into two subordinate parts—(1) John 11:1-16; (2) John 11:17-44.


Verse 2

John 11:2. (Now it was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) These words seem intended to bring into view the closeness of the relation between Jesus and Mary. There are particulars in which this narrative closely resembles that of chap. John 2:1-11 : as there we have the closest tie of kindred, so here we read of the most intimate friendship. But the one tie as well as the other must yield to the voice of God. The anointing was when John wrote well and widely known (see Matthew 26:13): it is here specially mentioned in anticipation of chap. 12.


Verse 3

John 11:3. The sisters therefore sent unto him saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. Their confidence in the love and in the power of Jesus is shown by the absence of any request: the message is a tender and delicate expression of their need. With the description of Lazarus compare chap. John 20:2 (where the same verb for ‘love’ is used), ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’


Verse 4

John 11:4. But when Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby. The reply of Jesus is not represented as addressed to the messengers sent, or to the apostles, though probably spoken in the hearing of both. The point of importance is the foreknowledge of Jesus, to whom were even now present both the miracle and the result. The first result is expressed in the closing words, ‘that the Son of God may be glorified thereby;’ the ultimate aim in the former clause, ‘for the glory of God.’ The true design of the sickness is not to bring death to Lazarus, but to glorify the Son of God, and by this means to bring glory to the Father. Compare chap. John 17:1.


Verse 5

John 11:5. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. This simple record of His love for this family (note how significant is the separate mention of each one of the three) connects itself both with John 11:4 and also with the statement of John 11:5-6, these verses really constituting one sentence. The object of the Evangelist is to set before us the mind of Jesus: in John 11:4 we see the first principle of all, supreme regard to the glory of God; here His love for those on whom the affliction must fall, and whom (John 11:6) He cannot help save at the hour appointed by His Father. But when that hour has come, His obedience to His Father’s will and His love for His sorrowing friends unite in leading Him to Bethany (John 11:7).—The word ‘loved’ used in this verse is different from that which we find in John 11:3. The sisters use that which belongs to tender human friendship (see note on chap. John 5:20); the Evangelist the more lofty word, which so often expresses the relation of Jesus to His disciples. He loved them with a love with which the thought of His Father’s love to Himself is mingled.


Verse 6

John 11:6. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, at that time indeed he abode in the place where he was two days. ‘Therefore’ is explained by the two verses which precede (see the last note). He cannot accept the moment suggested by man (comp. chap. John 2:4); He cannot follow at once the prompting of His affection for disciples. He will go to assuage their grief, but only at the moment appointed by the Father’s will.


Verse 7

John 11:7. Then after that he saith to the disciples, Let us go into Judea again? Jesus does not say ‘to Bethany,’ but to ‘Judea;’ for He knows that this visit to Bethany will bring Him again into the midst of His enemies, ‘the Jews,’ and will lead to a development of their hatred and malice which will find satisfaction only in His death. In the full consciousness of what awaits Him He prepares to depart for Bethany.


Verse 8

John 11:8. The disciples say unto him, Rabbi, but now the Jews were seeking to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? The words ‘but now’ (only just now) seem to show that the sojourn in Perea (chap. John 10:40) was short. The disciples see clearly that to go to Bethany is as perilous as to return to Jerusalem, where He has but now escaped from the rage of ‘the Jews’ (chap. John 10:31).


Verse 9-10

John 11:9-10. Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours of the day? If a man walk in the day he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night he stumbleth, because the light is not in him. This is the parable of chap. John 9:4 in an expanded form. By the light which God makes to shine in the world, He marks out twelve hours as the appointed time for ‘walking,’ for active work; by the absence of this light, the night is marked out as the time when there can be no such work. So is the life of every man ordered by God. There is the appointed time for work, indicated by the Providence of God: in following the intimations of His will the man will ‘not stumble,’ will take no false step. He will not shorten the proper time for ‘walking;’ for throughout the appointed twelve hours the finger of God will show the appointed work. It is only when man misses the Divine guidance, doing what no providential teaching has marked out, that he stumbleth: then he may well stumble, for the light (which during the day shines round him and entering the eye becomes within him light for guidance) is no longer in him. As applied to Himself the words of Jesus mean: ‘Following the will of God which leads Me into Judea again, I am walking in the light, I cannot “stumble” whatever may befell Me there.’


Verse 11

John 11:11. These things said he: and after that he saith unto them. Our friend Lazarus hath fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. No second message has been sent to Him; by His own Divine knowledge He speaks of the death of His friend.


Verse 12

John 11:12. The disciples therefore said unto him, Lord, if he hath fallen asleep, he shall be saved. We can hardly escape the thought that they have in their mind some tidings brought at the same time with the message of John 11:3, descriptive of the nature of the illness. Was it some raging fever that threatened the life of Lazarus, then, if calm slumber has come upon him, he is safe! Surely therefore it is no longer necessary for their Lord to expose Himself to peril by returning to Judea.


Verse 13

John 11:13. Howbeit Jesus had spoken of his death: but they thought that he spake of taking of rest in sleep. The figure can hardly have been here used by Jesus for the first time. The misconception of His meaning would seem to have arisen from His words in John 11:4, and from His delay in setting out for Bethany.


Verse 14-15

John 11:14-15. Then therefore Jesus said unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes, to the intent ye may believe, that I was not there; nevertheless let us go unto him. The words ‘for your sakes’ are explained by the clause which follows, ‘that ye may believe.’ Already they believed in Him; but ‘every new flight of faith is in its degree a new beginning of faith, comp. chap. John 2:11’ (Meyer). Had he come to Bethany while Lazarus lay sick, He would have healed his sickness; but great as might have been the miracle if He had done so, or if, arriving when Lazarus had just breathed his last, He had called back the departing spirit, in neither case would the disciples have seen the crowning ‘manifestation’ of their Lord, or have believed in Him as ‘the Resurrection and the Life.’ The disciples are now awakened to the fact that they are moving into the presence of death.


Verse 16

John 11:16. Thomas therefore (which is called Didymus) said unto his fellow-disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him. That is, with Jesus (not with Lazarus). It is plain that Jesus cannot be turned aside by their counsels or prayers; He is certainly about to return to Judea, at the peril of His life. As they cannot save Him they may at least share His fate. This is the exhortation of Thomas to his fellow-disciples; and it would seem that they shared his feelings, for the word ‘fellow-disciples’ (not found elsewhere in the New Testament), as compared with ‘the other disciples’ of John 20:25, binds all the disciples into one. The language is undoubtedly that of fervent love to Jesus, but it is also the language of despair and vanished hope. This is the end of all,—death; not the Messianic kingdom, not life. Whether we are right in thinking that this feeling was shared by the other disciples, or not, it is very natural that Thomas should be the one to give expression to it. From chap. John 14:5, John 20:24-25, we clearly perceive that sight is what he wants: when he sees not he gives himself up to despondency. It is remarkable that at every mention of this apostle John adds the Greek interpretation (Didymus, that is Twin) of the Aramaic name. It has been supposed that Didymus is the name with which Gentile Christians became most familiar; but if so it is singular that no other name than Thomas is found in the Synoptic Gospels and the Acts. By others it is urged that the word ‘Twin’ is used with symbolic meaning, pointing to the twofold nature of this apostle, in whom unbelief and faith, hope and tendency to despair, were strangely blended. With this statement the first paragraph of this narrative ends. The last words, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him,’ fitly close a section which, as Luthardt remarks, is dominated by the thought of death.


Verse 17

John 11:17. When therefore Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the tomb four days already. The situation of the Perean Bethany (chap. John 10:40) is so uncertain that we are unable to give a certain explanation of these four days. The distance from Jerusalem to the nearest point of the country beyond Jordan is not great (not much more than twenty miles), and could be traversed in a day. If then this was the situation of Bethany beyond Jordan, Jesus would reach the village of Martha and Mary on the second day from the commencement of His journey, and the fourth day from the reception of the news that Lazarus was sick (John 11:6). In this case the death of Lazarus must speedily have followed the departure of the messenger, and according to Eastern custom the body must on the same day have been laid in the tomb. Even if Bethany in Perea be placed at a somewhat greater distance from Jerusalem, this explanation removes all difficulties. Still it must be confessed that it is very natural to regard John 11:11 as spoken at the moment of death, though there is nothing in the words ‘hath fallen asleep’ to compel us to take this view. In that case the journey (if commenced immediately) must have occupied more than two whole days; yet even in this there is nothing difficult or improbable. Jesus reaches the village where the sisters lived on the fourth day of their mourning, when the lapse of time had brought home to them the hopelessness of their case.


Verse 18

John 11:18. Now Bethany is nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off. This verse is of importance, not merely as preparing for John 11:19, but also as showing that Jesus in visiting Bethany was coming into the immediate presence of His enemies. They had pronounced Him a blasphemer, and they were determined to bring Him to the blasphemer’s death (John 10:31; John 10:39).


Verse 19

John 11:19. And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. There is no ground whatever for understanding ‘the Jews’ in any other sense than that which the expression regularly bears in this Gospel. Amongst those who came to pay to the bereaved sisters the visits of condolence during the seven days of mourning, were many of the leaders of the people, many who were also leaders in hostility to Jesus. It is evident that the family of Bethany was one of distinction, and even their friendship to Jesus could not be a bar to their receiving from the Jews these offices of respect and sympathy. But this is not the only contrast which the mention of the Jews calls forth. As leaders of the people, ruling in ‘the city of their solemnities,’ they were the representatives of their Church and religion; and the ‘comfort’ they can offer in the presence of death is no inapt symbol of all that Judaism could do for the mourner. Thus on the one side we have human sorrow and the vanity of human comfort in the presence of death; on the other side we have Him who is the Life.


Verse 20

John 11:20. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him; but Mary sat still in the house. Every reader must be struck with the remarkable coincidence between this narrative and that of Luke 10:38-39, in the portraiture of the two sisters. Martha, even in the midst of her sorrow occupied with attention to family concerns, sees the messenger who announces the approach of Jesus and goes forth to meet Him, outside the village (John 11:30). Mary, absorbed in her grief, hears nothing of the message: it is not until Martha returns to her that she learns that Jesus is near.


Verse 21

John 11:21. Martha therefore said unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. Her first words express no reproach, but only the bitter thought of help come too late. In His presence her brother could not have died (comp. John 11:15). Of the possibility that Jesus might have spoken the word of help, even though their message might reach Him too late to bring Him to their dying brother, she says nothing, though the Jews, unchecked by the reverence of love, freely ask the question among themselves (John 11:37).


Verse 22

John 11:22. And even now I know that whatsoever things thou shalt ask of God, God will give thee. The words of this verse are very remarkable. The presence of the great Friend and Helper seems to give a sudden quickening to Martha’s faith. She had probably heard of the words of Jesus when the tidings of the sickness of Lazarus reached Him (John 11:4); and these words (which no doubt sorrow of heart and painful waiting had almost banished from her thought) surely gave ground for hope ‘even now.’ And yet, though truly expressive of the firmest confidence in Jesus, her words are vague; and the later narrative seems to prove that no definite expectation was present to her mind. The language is rather that of one who so believes in Jesus as to be assured that, where He is, help and blessing cannot be absent.


Verse 23

John 11:23. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. The words are designedly ambiguous,—spoken to try her faith. Like our Lord’s parables, they contain that of which faith may take hold and be raised into a higher region, but which unbelief or dulness of heart will miss. Will the hope that Martha’s words have vaguely expressed now become clear and definite? At all events the answer of Jesus will make her conscious to herself of what her faith really was.


Verse 24

John 11:24. Martha said unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus has told her only what she knew, for every true Israelite believed that in the last day the just would rise. How vague the thought embodied in these words can hardly be understood by us, in whom the same words awaken memories of a Resurrection in the past which brings to us true knowledge of the resurrection at the last day. And if even with us, in the first hours of our sorrow, the clear doctrine avails so little, bow small must have been the comfort which the believing Israelite could attain in the presence of the dead! Martha’s words have now lost the hope which the sight of Jesus had awakened: the present sorrow seems to admit of no relief. This moment of greatest need Jesus chooses for the greatest revelation of Himself. When all else has been seen to fail He will comfort.


Verse 25-26

John 11:25-26. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he have died, yet shall he live; And every one that liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? The emphasis falls on the first two words, ‘I,’ ‘am.’ Martha’s first expression of faith and hope had shown how imperfectly she knew Jesus Himself: to Himself alone His words now point. Her later words dwell on the resurrection in the remoter future: Jesus says, ‘I AM the resurrection and the life.’ Alike in the future and in the present, life is unchangeably in Him (chap. John 1:4),—and that the life which triumphs over death (‘resurrection’), the life by which death is excluded and annulled. In other passages we read of Jesus as the Life, here only as the Resurrection: the latter thought is in truth contained in the former, and needs not distinct expression save in the presence of the apparent victory of death. It is possible that the meaning of our Lord’s words is that He is the resurrection and the life which follows the resurrection,—in Him His people rise again, and, having risen, live for ever; but it is far more probable that this is only one part of the meaning. Because He is the Life, in the highest and absolute sense of this word, therefore He is the resurrection. He that believes in Him becomes one with Him: every one, therefore, that believes in Him possesses this victorious life. If he has died, yet life is his: if he still lives among men, this earthly life is but an emblem and a part of that all-embracing life which shall endure for ever in union with the Lord of life. In all this the law which limits man’s life on earth is not forgotten, but a revelation is given to man which changes the meaning of death. As Godet beautifully says: ‘Every believer is in reality and for ever sheltered from death. To die in full light, in the serene brightness of the life which is in Jesus, and to continue to live in Him, is no longer that which human language designates by the name of death. It is as if Jesus said: In me he who is dead is sure of life, and he who lives is sure never to die.’ The original, indeed, is much more expressive than we can well bring out in English, ‘Shall never unto eternity die.’ To the question, ‘Believest thou this?’ Martha answers (and the form of her answer is characteristic):—


Verse 27

John 11:27. She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I have believed that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, he that cometh into the world. The substitution of ‘I have believed’ for ‘I believe’ is striking. It seems to imply that she goes back on her previous belief,—securely founded, never shaken,—in which she knows that all He requires must be contained. His last words have been in some measure new and unfamiliar, and in her present state of mind she is incapable of comparing the old and the new. But that which she has believed and still believes contains the fullest recognition of her Lord. She has received Him as the fulfilment of Messianic hope, the revelation of the Divine to man, the long-expected Redeemer of the world.


Verse 28

John 11:28. And when she had so said, she went away, and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, The Teacher is come, and calleth thee. We cannot doubt that Mary until now had been in ignorance of the coming of Jesus, or that it was at His bidding that Martha told her sister secretly of His call for her. That which He was about to do He would have faith, not unbelief, to see; therefore Mary must be called ‘secretly.’


Verse 29

John 11:29. And she, when she heard it, arose quickly, and went unto him. Mark the characteristic touch in the words ‘arose quickly’ (comp. John 11:20). ‘Went unto,’ i.e., started on her way, for it is in John 11:32 that the actual coming is spoken of.


Verse 30

John 11:30. Now Jesus was not yet come into the village, but was still in that place where Martha met him. Avoiding the presence of ‘the Jews,’ so painful and incongruous at such a time. This verse is purely parenthetical.


Verse 31

John 11:31. The Jews, therefore, which were with her in the house, and were comforting her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up quickly and went out, followed her, supposing that she went unto the tomb to lament there. The movements of her sister had suggested no such thought; but as soon as Mary rose and went out, only one explanation seemed possible. She sought to go alone, but, according to the custom of the East, the friends who were with her attend her to the tomb to join in her lamentation over the dead. That they will meet Jesus has apparently not entered into their thought.


Verse 32

John 11:32. Mary, therefore, when she came where Jesus was, seeing him fell at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. Her first words are nearly the same as her sister’s: there is only in the Greek a slight difference in the place of ‘my’ which gives a touching emphasis to the expression of personal loss. Often may the sisters have repeated such words during their hours of anguish, when their brother was sinking before their eyes. Mary’s absorbing grief makes other words impossible: she falls at the feet of Jesus weeping.


Verse 33

John 11:33. When Jesus therefore saw her lamenting, and the Jews lamenting which came with her, he was moved with indignation in his spirit, and troubled himself. There is little doubt that the first word describing the emotion of Jesus denotes rather anger than sorrow. Such is its regular meaning; and, though New Testament usage partly gives a different turn to the word, yet in every passage it implies a severity of tone and feeling that is very different from grief. In Mark 14:5 it expresses indignation at what appeared reckless waste, and in Matthew 9:30 and Mark 1:43 it denotes stern dealing, a severity that marked the giving of the charge; while in the Septuagint the noun derived from the verb is used to translate the Hebrew noun signifying indignation or anger. The only other passage in the New Testament in which we find the word is John 11:38 of this chapter. That we are to understand it as implying anger seems thus to be clear, and we are strengthened in this conclusion by the fact that the early Greek fathers take it in this sense. It is more difficult to answer the question, At what was Jesus angry?

It has been replied—(1) at Himself, because He was moved to a sympathy and compassion which it was needful to restrain. In this case the words ‘His spirit’ are supposed to be directly governed by the verb—‘was indignant at His spirit.’ But such a use of ‘spirit’ is surely impossible, while the explanation as a whole does violence to those conceptions of the humanity of our Lord which this very Gospel teaches us to form;—(2) at the unbelief and hypocritical weeping of ‘the Jews.’ But many of them were to believe (John 11:45); and there is nothing to indicate that their weeping was not genuine. Besides this, the emotion of Jesus is traced to the lamenting of Mary not less than to that of the Jews; and the whole narrative gains immeasurably in force if we suppose the latter to have been as sincere as the former;—(3) at the misery brought into the world by sin. This explanation appears upon the whole to be the most probable. As to the words ‘in His spirit,’ without entering into any discussion of a difficult subject, we may say that, as ‘the spirit’ denotes the highest (and so to speak) innermost part of man’s nature, the language shows that our Lord’s nature was stirred to its very depth. This reference to the spirit assists us in understanding the words that follow ‘and troubled Himself:’ the indignation and horror of the spirit threw the whole ‘self’ into disturbance. The meaning of chap. John 13:21, where a similar expression occurs, is substantially the same: there we read that, at the thought of the presence of sin, of such evil as was about to show itself in His betrayal by Judas, Jesus was ‘troubled’ (that is, agitated, disturbed) ‘in His spirit.’


Verse 34-35

John 11:34-35. And he said, where have ye laid him? They say unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. The question is addressed to the sisters, and ‘the Jews’ give place to them in thought, for it is in sympathy with the bitter anguish of those whom He loves (well though He knows that He is about to assuage their grief) that the tears of Jesus are shed. The word differs from that used in John 11:31; John 11:33, where the meaning is not calm weeping, but lamentation and wailing.


Verse 36-37

John 11:36-37. The Jews therefore said, Behold how he loved him! But some of them said, Gould not this man, which opened the eyes of him that was blind, have caused that this man also should not die? Again there is a division amongst the Jews. Many recognise the naturalness of His tears, as a proof of His love for the departed. But some (in no spirit of simple wonder and perplexity, but in unfriendliness) ask why He had not prevented the calamity over which He is mourning. They may mean, As He gave sight to the blind man, could He not, if He had really wished, have stayed the power of the fatal disease? But it is also possible that they merely assume the former miracle for the purpose of invalidating it: If He really did give sight, why could He not heal the sickness? To heal diseases was to them a less wonderful act than to give sight to one born blind. We are compelled to assume an unfriendly spirit of the second question, partly because of John’s use of the term ‘the Jews,’ partly from the analogy of many other passages in which He records the opposing comments of different sections of the party: the sequel also (John 11:45-46) seems naturally to suggest such a division. The recurrence (in John 11:38) of the word discussed above (John 11:33) is thus very easily explained.


Verse 38

John 11:38. Jesus therefore again moved with indignation in himself cometh to the tomb. How it was a cave, and a stone lay against it. The indignation was again excited either by the malicious comment just made by some of the Jews, or by the renewed recollection of the power of evil in the world. Like Jewish tombs in general, this was a natural cave or, more probably, a vault artificially excavated in the limestone rock. The entrance was closed by a stone, which lay against it (or possibly upon it). This verse again furnishes an indication that the family was not poor.


Verse 39

John 11:39. Jesus saith, Take ye away the stone. The sister of him that was dead, Martha, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been four days here. No expectation of some great blessing which God will give in answer to the prayer of Jesus (John 11:22) is now in Martha’s mind. She cannot understand the removal of the stone. To her, as the (elder) sister, the right of expostulation belonged; and it is in the simplest and most direct terms that she urges that the dead may not be exposed to the living. Nothing could more vividly illustrate the power which at this moment death wielded alike over the body of the departed and his sister’s spirit. It is probably to bring out this power in the most forcible manner possible that not only is Martha described as ‘the sister of him that was dead,’ but that the description precedes her name. How differently does the Evangelist himself feel! It is instructive to observe that in the words ‘him that was dead’ he changes the term for death, using not that of John 11:26, but another which expresses simply coming to the end of life.


Verse 40

John 11:40. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou believedst, thou shouldest see the glory of God? Martha would have prevented the removal of the stone; but this wish was but a symbol of a real hindrance in the Saviour’s way,—her decline in faith. She has for the time come completely under the influence of ‘the things seen:the reality of her loss is too much for her, and she cannot join the words of Jesus in John 11:25-26 with His present actions. In saying ‘believe’ he recalls those words of His to her thought; and not those words only, but also His first saying (John 11:4), that the sickness was ‘not unto death, but for the glory of God.’


Verse 41-42

John 11:41-42. They took away the stone therefore. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou heardest me. And I myself knew that thou hearest me always; but because of the multitude which standeth around I said it, that they may believe that thou didst send me. The words are not a prayer, but a thanksgiving for prayer answered. What He is about to do is given by the Father in answer to His prayer. But had Jesus said no more than this, though the miracle would have ministered to ‘the glory of God(John 11:4), yet even this purpose would have been attained in an inferior degree: the Father receives true glory when Jesus is acknowledged, not merely as a Prophet, whose prayer is heard, but as the Son of God. To His thanksgiving Jesus adds words which implicitly declare the whole relation of the Father to the Son. The hearing of prayer for which He has given thanks is no isolated act, but is one manifestation of an unceasing communion. Whilst uttering the words of prayer or of thanksgiving, He knew that the Father heard Him always: the words were spoken for the sake of the multitude, that they might believe the truth of His mission. Had they witnessed the miracle unaccompanied by this appeal to His Father, they might well have glorified God who had given such power unto men, and acknowledged that as a wonder-working Prophet Jesus was sent and empowered by God. But if the power of God is manifested now, when this solemn claim is made of constant communion with God, with God as ‘Father,’ the seal of the Father is set upon Him as the Son and the Sent of God. The word ‘multitude’ is remarkable. It cannot signify number only and refer to ‘the Jewsbefore spoken of. John always employs this word in another sense, and indeed in marked distinction from the ruling class, ‘the Jews.’ It is clear then that many were now present,—persons who had accompanied Jesus from Perea and friends and neighbours of the family of Bethany.


Verse 43-44

John 11:43-44. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth; and he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with gravebands: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them. Loose him, and let him go. The words ‘bound hand and foot’ perhaps convey a wrong impression: as the more literal meaning is ‘his hands and his feet bound with gravebands,’ it is very possible that the limbs were separately bound, so that, life having returned, free movement was permitted to them. The miracle wrought, the Evangelist adds nothing concerning Lazarus or his sisters. It is Jesus Himself who is the centre of the scene, who has shown Himself the Resurrection and the Life. Even the impression which this most wonderful of miracles produces is recorded only in its relation to Jesus and to belief in Him.


Verse 45

John 11:45. Many therefore of the Jews, they which came to Mary, and beheld the things which Jesus did, believed in him. The statement is very remarkable, but the language of the original is so clear as to leave no doubt as to the meaning. The great manifestations of our Lord to the people, whether in word or in miracle, were usually, as we have several times seen, followed by a marked division of opinion and feeling among His hearers. There is such a division in the present instance, as the next verse shows; but the effect of the miracle is great beyond precedent, for all those of ‘the Jewswho had come to the house of Mary (John 11:19), and who with her witnessed the actions of Jesus, became believers in Him.


Verses 45-47

The most striking of all the miracles of Jesus has been performed, and His manifestation of Himself to the world has ended. The effect is proportionate. On the one hand, faith is awakened in the hearts of ‘many’ of His most determined enemies ‘the Jews.’ On the other hand, final measures are taken to seize and kill Him. Jesus retires to a city near the wilderness along with His disciples. It is the pause before the last journey to Jerusalem, to which He is to go as the Paschal Lamb selected for the true Paschal sacrifice and feast. The subordinate parts are—(1) John 11:45-46; (2) John 11:47-53; (3) John 11:54-57.


Verse 46

John 11:46. But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done. It is impossible, we think, that what is here related can have been done with friendly motives, or from a mere sense of duty to men whose office made them spiritual guides of the people. The analogy of many passages in which John similarly records diverging opinions makes it plain that the giving of this information to the Pharisees was an act of hostility to Jesus. If so, the word ‘them’ at the beginning of the verse must refer to ‘the Jewsin general, not to those who are described in the preceding verse. Some of ‘the Jews’ may have been found amongst the multitude which, as we know, stood round (John 11:42), having no connection with the mourning of the sisters, and therefore not included in the description of John 11:45. At this period of our Lord’s history the Pharisees have as a body declared against Him; to this large and powerful sect, therefore, the news of the event is brought.


Verse 47

John 11:47. The chief priests and the Pharisees therefore gathered a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many signs. Here, probably for the first time in this Gospel, we read of a meeting of the Sanhedrin,—not a formal meeting, but one hastily summoned in the sudden emergency that had arisen. (See the note on chap. John 7:32.) The question ‘What do we?’ is not so much deliberative (What are we to do?) as reproachful of themselves, What are we doing? This man (a designation of dislike or contempt) is working many miracles and we do nothing,—take no steps to prevent the evil that must follow! The Evangelist is careful to preserve their testimony against themselves; in the moment of their rage they acknowledge the ‘many signsof Jesus, and confess themselves without excuse.


Verse 48

John 11:48. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe in him: and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. The fear was natural. It is true that they were already subject to the Roman power. But, with their usual policy towards tributary states, the Romans had left them their worship, temple, and religious administration, untouched. If Jesus (whom they will not recognise in His religious claims) shall be owned as Messiah, and popular tumult shall ensue, all these privileges will be taken away from them. Their fear therefore is real; their guilt lay not in a hypocritical pretence of alarm, but in their wilful blindness to the truth. There can be no doubt whatever that their words are quoted by the Evangelist as an unconscious prophecy (comp. chap. John 7:35, John 12:19, John 19:19, and below, John 11:50), or rather as a prophecy to be fulfilled in that irony of events which shall bring on them in their unbelief the very calamities they feared, while faith would have secured for them the contrasted blessings. Because the Jewish people did not believe in Jesus but rejected Him, the Romans did take away both their ‘place and nation:’ had they believed they would have been established for ever in the spiritual kingdom of the Messiah.


Verse 49-50

John 11:49-50. But a certain one of them, named Caiaphas, being high priest of that year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is profitable for you that one man should die for the people, and the whole nation perish not. Caiaphas was a Sadducee, a powerful and crafty man. He was high priest for about eighteen years (A.D. 18-36), but is here spoken of by the Evangelist (as in chap. John 18:13) as being ‘high priest of that year.’ This remarkable expression has no reference to the high priest’s precarious tenure of office in those times (as many as 25 high priests are enumerated in the century preceding the destruction of Jerusalem); nor is there the smallest pretence for attributing to the Evangelist a historical mistake (such as a belief that the office was annual!). The simple meaning is that Caiaphas was high priest in that memorable year, in which the true sacrifice for the sins of the people was offered, by that death of which the high priest unconsciously prophesied, and in causing which moreover he was in great measure the instrument. The first words spoken by Caiaphas are in their brusque haughtiness characteristic of the sect to which he belonged. His whole address to the Pharisees is marked by heartless selfishness.

‘If we let him alone we shall be brought to ruin,’ the Pharisees had said: ‘Save yourselves and let Him perish,’ is the uncompromising answer of this high priest. He seems to use two very different words in the same sense: ‘people’ was the name of Israel in its theocratic aspect, ‘nation’ (the word the Pharisees had used) was a term common to Israel with all other peoples of the world. ‘People’ is a name which the Sanhedrists would use in reference to their own rule; ‘nation’ is that which the Romans would attack and destroy. The further significance of his language will afterwards appear (see note on the next verse). Unscrupulous and utterly unjust as this counsel was, it was politic and crafty. It will commend them to the Romans if they can show themselves willing to destroy any one of whom it may be even pretended that he seeks to disturb their rule.


Verse 51-52

John 11:51-52. But this spake he not of himself: but being high priest of that year, he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but that he might also gather together into one the children of God that are scattered abroad. The words are a prophecy: heartless and unscrupulous in meaning and intention, they are so controlled as to express profound and blessed truth. In the earlier days of the nation a prophetic spirit was ever believed to rest upon the high priest (comp. Exodus 28:30, Numbers 27:21, Hosea 3:4). When the office became degraded, and the high priest the servant of ambition and covetousness, prophetic guidance was no longer sought from him; but, as in the Old Testament we read of false prophets who in spite of themselves were compelled to be the medium of proclaiming God’s will, so is it here. We see now the significance of the words ‘people’ and ‘nation.’ He prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation,—i.e., for the Jews, henceforth but one of the nations of the world, ranked with the Gentiles whom they scorned. The object of this death should also be, ‘that He might gather into one the children of God that are scattered abroad.’ This latter prophecy is found by the Evangelist in the word ‘people’ of John 11:50, ‘that one man should die for the people.’ No longer does this name belong to Jews alone. The sacrifice is offered in behalf of all the children of God, all to whom the Father offers sonship, gathered henceforth into one under the new name of ‘the people’ of God. Compare the striking parallels in chap. John 7:35, John 10:16, John 17:20.


Verse 53

John 11:53. From that day forth, therefore, they took counsel that they might put him to death. Not that they might pass sentence of death upon him; that is done: but that they might execute the sentence. Their previous efforts of rage against Jesus had been connected with moments of special excitement; henceforward they are deliberate, determined, constant. The cup of iniquity of ‘the Jews’ is full.


Verse 54

John 11:54. Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews; but went away thence into the country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim, and there abode with the disciples. The time of ‘free speech’ (see note on chap. John 7:4) was at an end: from this time Jesus avoided communication with ‘the Jews,’ no longer vouchsafing to them the word which they heard only to reject. The place to which He withdrew afforded a deeper solitude than that sought by Him a little while before (chap. John 10:40). The crisis in His life is graver; the retirement which he seeks is more profound. There is no mention now (as in chap. John 10:41) of many who resorted unto Him: the town to which He retired is described as ‘near to the wilderness.’ Ephraim, possibly the same as Ophrah (1 Samuel 13:17), is commonly identified with el-Taiyibeh, a village 16 miles from Jerusalem and 4 or 5 east of Bethel, situated on a hill which commands the valley of the Jordan. The wilderness will be ‘the wild uncultivated hill country north-east of Jerusalem, lying between the central towns and the Jordan valley’ (Dict. of Bible, i. 569. See also Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, pp. 214, 419).


Verse 55

John 11:55. And the passover of the Jews was nigh at hand. On these words see the notes on chap. John 2:13, John 6:4. No one who has followed the narrative of this Gospel with care up to the present point can doubt that the expression is used with deep, indeed with terrible significance.

And many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the passover, to purify themselves. It does not appear that there was any special injunction with regard to purification before the Passover; for such passages as Numbers 9:6-11, 2 Chronicles 30:17-20, would rather indicate that from the peculiar importance of this feast it was to be observed even where the purification required before all great events could not be obtained. There can be no doubt, however, that it fell under the general law of purification, and that defiled persons did not feel themselves qualified to partake of the Passover (comp. chap. John 18:28). These strangers from the country, therefore, assembled in Jerusalem several days before the festival, that in the holy city they might seek the preparation that was requisite.


Verse 56

John 11:56. They sought therefore for Jesus, and spake among themselves, as they stood in the temple-courts, What think ye, that he will not come to the feast? The language is that of earnest and interested inquiry. Those who are talking together are friendly to Jesus, and hopeful and expectant that He will appear at the festival. The groups assemble in the temple-courts, where many of them may have come to bring offerings for purification (John 11:55), and where Jesus had been wont to teach. The word ‘therefore’ at the beginning of this verse seems to point to the privacy into which Jesus had retired (John 11:54). These pilgrims came to Jerusalem, hoping to meet with Jesus, but they saw Him not: they sought Him therefore, etc. (comp. chap. John 7:11).


Verse 57

John 11:57. Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given commandments, that if any man knew where he were, he should shew it that they might seize him. As the last verse has described the eager interest of the friends of Jesus, this verse presents a picture of His enemies. In pursuance of the resolve related above (John 11:53) commandments had been issued—the plural seems to point to orders sent to all parts of the land—that all the faithful should aid the rulers in apprehending Jesus. These latter verses show us the friends and the foes of Jesus alike occupying the field in preparation for the end.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 11:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/john-11.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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