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The Resurrection of Lazarus

By William R. Cunningham
June 10, 2010

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Scripture Lesson: John 11:1-44

Introduction

One of the things I recall being taught growing up was the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead.  It was a great story, though it didn’t impact me as much then as it does now.  In addition to that there are some things about it that I find were incorrectly taught when I was a child.  Recently I have engrossed myself in the topic of divine healing.  There are certain things that I have come to believe because of the teachings of healing ministers and my own personal studies on the topic.  One of things that I am convinced of is that God wants us well.  God does not make us sick or play games with sickness, disease, and death.

However, one thing that was taught to me about Lazarus is that God was indeed playing one of those games so to speak.  I was taught that Jesus stayed an extra two days where he was to ensure that Lazarus was good and dead.  We were taught that Jesus waited until Lazarus died and remained dead so that there was no doubt that he was dead and not in a comma.  It was said that sometimes people were buried alive and then woke up after being put in a tomb giving the appearance of rising from the dead.  Jesus wanted everyone to know for sure that he raised Lazarus from the dead and that Lazarus didn’t wake up from a comma.  Is this true?  I found that it is not true and I will show you why in this article.

Some Background Information

Before we dive into the story about Lazarus it is very important that we establish Jesus’ whereabouts at that time.  This will help us interpret some of the things that happened in the story about Lazarus.  Let’s go back to chapter ten.

John 10:39-42 (NASB95) {39} Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp. {40} And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was first baptizing, and He was staying there. {41} Many came to Him and were saying, "While John performed no sign, yet everything John said about this man was true." {42} Many believed in Him there.
Read John 10:22-42 to get a full picture of what was going on at that time.

The religious leaders questioned Jesus about being the Christ, i.e., the Messiah.  Jesus made the statement that "I and the Father are one."  The religious leaders interpreted that as Jesus making himself equal to God.  Because of that they were going to stone him, but Jesus slipped away and went to the other side of the Jordan in Perea where John the Baptist used to minister.

Therefore, Jesus was about 18 – 20 miles away from Jerusalem and Bethany (Bethany was two miles away from Jerusalem).  The important thing to remember here is that at this time Jesus was within a days journey of Bethany.  A days journey was thought to be about 24 – 30 miles depending on how you were traveling, the terrain, and what you were traveling on (horseback, walking, etc.).  So we can say that Jesus was one day away from Bethany at that time with regards to travel.

Jesus Gets the News about Lazarus

John 11:3-4 (NASB95) {3} So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick." {4} But when Jesus heard this, He said, "This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it."

Sisters Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick.  John identifies Mary as being the one that anointed Jesus’ feet with oil though that hadn’t happened yet (see John 12:1-3).  However, the incident was so well known that John used it when writing his gospel (both incidences were in the past when John wrote this).  We can assume that they sent for Jesus because they wanted him to come heal Lazarus.

We see that Jesus had a relationship with Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus.  The bible says that Jesus loved them.  Jesus already knew that the end result of Lazarus’ sickness would not be death.  The bible doesn’t say whether Jesus already knew about Lazarus or whether he was speaking words of faith about Lazarus.  Indications in later verses suggest that Jesus did indeed know about Lazarus’ current condition at that time.

 

The Wait

John 11:5-8 (NASB95) {5} Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. {6} So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. {7} Then after this He said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." {8} The disciples said to Him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?"

It is very important to note verse 5.  The bible says that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus.  More importantly it says that because of that love he decided to wait two more days where he was (in Perea). Now here it has been taught that Jesus waited two more days to make sure Lazarus was good and dead.  Of course this assumes that he already knew that Lazarus was dead, which is possible given later statements by him.  In any case Jesus stayed two more days where he was because of his love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  I don’t quite understand that correlation, but that is what the bible tells us so that is what it must be.  If we add another interpretation such as Jesus stayed an extra two days to ensure Lazarus was perceived as dead would only be invalid speculation.
After the two days Jesus decided to go to Judea (Judah).  Jerusalem and Bethany were in Judea, what the Romans called Judea.  The disciples responded the way they did because the religious leaders had just tried to stone him there only days before.  Perhaps they knew of even more recent attempts to find Jesus and kill him after that attempted stoning incident that we read earlier in chapter ten.

 

Go To Lazarus

Jesus decided to go see Lazarus and first told his disciples that Lazarus was sleeping.  They didn’t understand that he was telling them that Lazarus was dead so he plainly told them, "Lazarus is dead."  Jesus next says something that is quite interesting.

John 11:14-15 (NASB95) {14} So Jesus then said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, {15} and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him."

Jesus said that he was glad that he wasn’t with Lazarus for the sake of the disciples.  Again his not being with Lazarus to heal him had nothing to do with God wanting to ensure that people knew Lazarus was dead so that Jesus’ miracle would be seen as real.  Jesus was glad he wasn’t there for the sake of the disciples.  Again we don’t know all the details of that, but it is what the bible tells us.  Any other interpretation is inaccurate and only speculation or dogma.

In verse 16 we see Thomas concluding that the religious leaders were going to kill Jesus if he goes back to Judea since they had tried to kill him only a few days before.  However, Thomas decided to go with him and die, which shows dedication on his part.

The Arrival at Bethany

John 11:17-18 (NASB95) {17} So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. {18} Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off;

This is very important.  When Jesus arrived at Bethany he found that Lazarus had been dead four days.  This means that Lazarus was dead when Jesus received news about his sickness or he died shortly afterwards.  This also means that if Jesus had immediately gone to Bethany after receiving the news that Lazarus still would have been dead before Jesus got to him.  Here is a timeline to illustrate this.

  1. Mary and Martha sends news to Jesus – 1 day
  2. Jesus waits two days – 2 days
  3. Jesus goes to Bethany – 1 day
  4. Total elapsed time is 4 days

That’s a total of four days since news was first sent to Jesus.  So Lazarus died during day 1 and there was no way that Jesus would have been able to get to Lazarus to heal him before he died, since he would have gotten to Lazarus on day two.  That is very interesting.

John 11:20-27 (NASB95) {20} Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. {21} Martha then said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. {22} "Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You." {23} Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." {24} Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." {25} Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, {26} and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" {27} She said to Him, "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world."

The conversation between Martha and Jesus is very interesting to me.  It shows how we perceive things based on our own level of belief.  Jesus was basically telling Martha that Lazarus would live, but she didn’t see that even after saying that she knew God would do whatever he asked.  She never perceived that death was not the end.  Also note Jesus’ question to her in verses 25 and 26.  Her response had nothing to do with his question, but her perception, i.e., belief about the resurrection.

 

At the Tomb

John 11:32-40 (NASB95) {32} Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." {33} When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, {34} and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see." {35} Jesus wept. {36} So the Jews were saying, "See how He loved him!" {37} But some of them said, "Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?" {38} So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. {39} Jesus said, "Remove the stone." Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days." {40} Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"

Mary goes to where Jesus was and said the same thing that Martha told him, namely that if he had been there then Lazarus would not have died.  Jesus was troubled when he saw her weeping.  He felt emotional about Mary’s grief in the same way any of us might be affected by someone’s grief.  We even see that Jesus shed some tears when they began to lead him to the tomb where Lazarus was laid.  Remember that the bible said that Jesus loved Lazarus and now he was dead.

I would like to stop for a moment here to highlight the humanity of Jesus Christ.  He knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead and he knew that in the end of this situation that Lazarus would be alive and well.  However, he still felt emotional about Mary and Martha’s grieve and perhaps even by the fact that Lazarus died.

Some of the Jews that were around began stating the same thing that Mary and Martha stated, namely that if he had been present that he could have saved Lazarus.

Again Jesus’ conversation with Martha is very interesting.  Jesus said to roll the stone away and Martha responded that it would be stink because Lazarus was in the cave for four days.  Perhaps she thought that he wanted to merely view the body.  Jesus reminded her of what he said about him being the resurrection.  Of course we know that Martha did not perceive it the way that Jesus meant it.

 

Lazarus is Resurrected

John 11:41-44 (NASB95) {41} So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. {42} "I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me." {43} When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth." {44} The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

Jesus’ prayer to the Father is very interesting to me.  First of all notice how Jesus prays.  We are used to closing our eyes and bowing our heads when we pray.  Jesus on the other hand raised his eyes and began to speak to the Father.  Bowing your head and closing your eyes is not the way we are supposed to pray (not that it is wrong to do so).  There are many positions that we may pray in and it is therefore not necessary to close your eyes and bow your head.  I recall one or more ministers saying that we are supposed to watch as well as pray.  How can we watch if our eyes are closed?  Some also point out that the disciples would not be able to write much of their books if they had their eyes bowed in prayer during some of the things Jesus did because they would not have witnessed them!
Jesus’ prayer to the Father was simply to thank the Father for hearing him.  Jesus said that he knew that the Father always hears him.  We can have that same confidence too with regards to the following scripture.

1 John 5:14-15 (NASB95) {14} This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. {15} And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

We can know God’s will if we are transformed and we are transformed when we renew our minds.

Romans 12:2 (NASB95) {2} And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Next Jesus shouted, "Lazarus, come here!"  After that Lazarus came out of the tomb wrapped in the burial cloths placed on him.  Jesus told them to unbind him and let him go.  Many who were present believed in Jesus Christ after that.  However, there were other Jews who instead went back and told the Pharisees what Jesus did.  It doesn’t matter how good of an act you do there will always be those who will oppose you.

 

Conclusion

One of the things that really struck me about this passage of scripture is the fact that Jesus did not wait until Lazarus died before going to Bethany.  I was taught many years ago that Jesus waited the extra two days to make sure that Lazarus was dead because people could be buried in a comma or the like and rise out of that comma up to three days later or so.  Given the other things that I know about how God operates, that really doesn’t make sense to me.

God does not need to put on a show to prove himself by "playing" with someone’s life.  After all, the religious leaders accused Jesus of casting out demons in the name of the prince of the demons, Beelzebub (Matthew 12:24).  So God didn’t need to confirm his miracle by ensuring Lazarus was dead because there would always be doubt and opposition as you see in this incident.

Lazarus would have been dead if Jesus immediately went to Bethany after receiving news about Lazarus’ sickness.  In any case neither the Father nor Jesus was playing games with Lazarus’ life to put on a show so to speak.

Another point about this passage is how we can read our religious dogma into scripture when that scripture does not support such dogma.  For example, we are told that Jesus stayed where he was (Perea) because he wanted to ensure that Lazarus was dead and that people wouldn’t say that Lazarus was really in a comma and arose from it when Jesus raised him from the dead.  However, the bible clearly gives the reason why Jesus stayed where he was an additional two days (perhaps he meant to stay that long anyway and simply decided not to shorten his trip for Lazarus’ sake).  The bible says that he loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus and because of that stayed two more days in Perea.  It is also possible that Jesus originally intended to stay longer in Perea especially since the Pharisees wanted to kill him.  It is possible that he cut his stay there short or decided not to travel elsewhere in order to go back to see about Lazarus.  In any case we can sometimes overshadow the truth from the scriptures with our own religious dogma as is the case with this passage.

Lazarus was raised from the dead because Mary and Martha sent for Jesus.  Everyone who came to Jesus was healed.  Though Lazarus was already dead, the end result was that his sickness did not end in his death just as Jesus said when he received news about Lazarus’ sickness.

In the end Lazarus was alive.  Jesus once again responded to the call of someone for help—for healing.  Jesus did not allow the opposition of the religious leaders to keep him from doing what he needed to do, namely his ministry.  We should be the same way.  Go to Jesus when we need help (we will discuss this in another article), and don’t allow others to hinder what God has called you to do.  Amen.

 

Questions

  • What are some things you learned about how God operates from this passage?
  • Does Jesus heal and raise people from the dead today?
  • How is your faith affected by this passage?
  • What have you learned from this passage?
  • What can you learn from the conversation between Jesus and Martha?
  • What can you learn from Jesus being adamant about going back to Judea even though they had tried to kill him there?
  • What changes will you make in your life based on what you’ve learned from this passage?
  • After reading this passage of scripture what would you like to study to learn more about in the bible?
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