John 11. Jesus Raised Lazarus After Four Days in the Tomb.
Key Notes: God glorified by a death. Resuscitation vs. resurrection. Separation and death. Eternal life now.
John 11 is a short story, full of human interest, easy to read, full of tender emotions and dramatic high-lights. Moreover, its message is powerful and requires some explanation.
11:1–6 Jesus had three single friends whom He loved. They maintained a prominent household in the little village of Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem. A message came Him across the Jordan (10:40) that Lazarus was sick: “Lord, him whom You love is sick.” Jesus did not move to see Lazarus for two days.
11:7–16 Then He proposed to go back to Judea, where He had been threatened with death. The disciples were apprehensive, but Jesus said as long as it was day-light, the work would go on. Then He said Lazarus was asleep, a common sign that the crisis of fever had passed. When they misunderstood that, Jesus told them Lazarus was dead and He was going to Bethany to resuscitate him. Thomas thought they were all going to die, but he was ready. Jesus’ death was in fact close at hand, perhaps a week away and the next event in Judea would crystallize the plot against Him.
11:17–27 Before Jesus got into Bethany, the word came that Lazarus had been dead four days. Martha ran out of the village (11:30) to meet Him.
“Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died”
“And even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.
"Jesus said, 'Your brother will rise again.'”
“ I know that he will rise again in the resurrection.”
"Jesus replied, I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…. Do you believe this?'”
“Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, He who is coming into the world.”
We think of Martha “having works” and Mary “having faith” but Martha’s faith is a good as any of the disciples. But she does not believe that Jesus can raise Lazarus from the dead; she will object to moving the stone from the tomb. 11:39
11:28–37 Martha called Mary out of the house and the mourners followed. Jesus’ work will be witnessed by a crowd, sympathetic to Mary and Martha.
“Lord, if You had been here my brother would not have died”. Martha had said the same words, so this was part of their grieving. They had probably said it over and over.
11:38–44 Jesus did not reply in words, but wept, deeply moved, making a sound like snorting or more likely, sobbing. (11:33, 38). He came to the tomb and commanded that the stone be moved. Martha said that the odor of a dead body would be offensive. He reminded her of His promise to exhibit the glory of God.
When the stone was removed, Jesus prayed to the Father, conscious of the listeners.
“Father, I thank Thee that You have heard me, that You hear Me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that You have sent Me.”
Then He cried with a loud voice: ‘Lazarus, come forth.” Lazarus came to the entrance of the tomb bound hand and foot. Jesus ordered him unbound so that he could run to the house for proper clothes.
11:45–54 Many believed in Jesus because of the miracle, but some went to the Pharisees. The Pharisees and chief priests (mostly Sadducees) gathered the Sanhedrin to deal with this threat to the established order. They were relatively secure under Roman rule, and could not tolerate a popular movement rising against them. Caiaphus prophesied better than he knew:
“It was expedient for one man to die for the people and not the whole nation perish.”
John interpreted that to say that dying for the people meant dying for the people of the world. Dying for Israel would eventually unite the believing Jews with those of all nations.
Jesus retreated to a tower near the wilderness.
Jesus resuscitated three people during His life: the son of the widow of Nain, (Lk.7:11–16), Jairus’ daughter (Lk.8:40–56) and most spectacularly, Lazarus. These were not resurrections, which give people new bodies, but resuscitations, restorations of preexisting life. Some have wondered (notably C.S. Lewis) whether it was a favor to Lazarus, to have to die twice. On the other hand, it gave him the opportunity to make amends and live his life with eternity more clearly in view. We would love to know more from him about his life, before and after his death.
Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life.
He that believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.
And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
The first sentence, taken apart, is elaborated in the two sentences that follow:
“I am the Resurrection….He that believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
“I am the Life….Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die”.
Resurrection is one thing. Never dying is quite another. The two concepts are different.
Resurrection is a prominent NT theme; I Corinthians 15 is a whole chapter devoted to it. It is the promise that at the Christ’s Second Coming, glorious bodies will be issued to the believing dead and the living.
“Never Die” is not much mentioned and sounds strange, impossible, but Jesus said it several times and amplified it by the term “eternal life.”
“…should not perish but have everlasting life.” (Jn.3:16)
“If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” Jn.8:51
“…I give them eternal life and they shall never perish, and no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Jn.10:28
When Jesus speaks of eternal life, He uses the present tense, meaning that eternal life is given to us while we live.
“He who believes in the Son has eternal life.” Jn.3:36
“Whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life.” Jn.5:24
“He who believes has eternal life.” Jn.6:47
“…the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Rom.6:23
To understand eternal life, we must grasp the idea of eternal death; eternal death is separation from God.
Separation from God is due to sin.
“Behold, the Lord’s arm is not shortened that it cannot save, nor His ear dull that it cannot hear, but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear.” Isa.59:1–2
Separation from the world and our families is physical death. Separation from God is spiritual death. That is why Scripture can refer to living people as dead.
“And you He made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked….” Eph.2:1,5; also Col.2:13,20
To establish our fellowship with God, we confess our sins and accept His promise “to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I Jn.1:9 And simply enough “…whoever believes in Him may have eternal life”. Jn.3:15. “…whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. “ (Jn.3:16)
This new fellowship puts my hand in His hand. “…and I give them eternal life and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” Jn.10:29. Not even death. With my hand in His, I will cross the veil of death holding His hand and find sweeter fellowship there than ever before, “...away from the body, at home with the Lord”. IICor.5:8. That is eternal life; we have it now; it is our permanent relationship with Christ our Savior, with the Holy Spirit our Comforter, and the Father, giver of all good things.
“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore chose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice and cleaving to Him. Chose life.” Deut.30:19–20