John 11 - IVP New Testament Commentaries
Jesus Raises Lazarus
In this transitional story there are many connections with earlier chapters. The motif of light found in chapters 8 and 9 continues (11:9-10), the purpose given for the illness of the blind man is similar to that given for Lazarus' death (9:3; 11:4), and the healing of the blind man is referred to (11:37), as is the conflict with the Jewish authorities in chapter 10 (11:8). We have another example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, calling his own and gathering his flock (11:54). There are also larger connections, for the raising of Lazarus is the last of a series of Jesus' signs that began in chapter 2; both the first and last of the signs in this series (2:11; 11:4) are explicitly linked with the revelation of God's glory. All of the signs were revelations of who Jesus is and what he offers. The final sign, the raising of Lazarus, points most clearly to what has been at the heart of the revelation all the way through and what was emphasized in Jesus' keynote address (5:19-30)--that Jesus is the one who gives life. The irony, of course, is that he gives life by giving up his own life on the cross. A further irony is that by giving life to Lazarus, Jesus sets in motion his own death. The raising of Lazarus, then, is the final sign before the event that actually accomplishes what all the signs have pointed toward--the provision of life through the death of the Son of God.
This story also continues to develop the theme of faith. Jesus has just made a very clear statement of his unity with the Father (10:30, 38), and many have believed in him (10:42). Often in this Gospel Jesus reacts to faith by doing or saying something scandalous or cryptic. Although these folk who have faith are not present at the raising of Lazarus, the raising can perhaps be seen as a further revelation in response to their faith, as they represent a general turn upward in his popularity.Lazarus Dies (11:1-16) John does not say exactly when this event took place, only that it was sometime during the four months, roughly, between the Feast of Dedication and Passover. John is, however, careful to describe the place. This Bethany is a little less than two miles southeast of Jerusalem on the road to Jericho (cf. v. 18). It is to be distinguished from the Bethany where John had been baptizing (1:28) and to which Jesus had just returned (10:40), which is either in Perea at the Jordan a few miles north of the Dead Sea, about a day's journey from Jerusalem, or up north in Batanea, several days journey away (Riesner 1992; cf. Carson 1991:147, 407).
The sisters send a message to Jesus: Lord, the one you love is sick (v. 3). Clearly, Jesus had a special relationship with this man and his sisters (v. 5). Yet chapters 11 and 12 are the only reference to Lazarus in the New Testament. We are alerted, once again, to how little we know of the life of our Lord (cf. 21:25).
This request is very similar to Jesus' mother's request at the wedding of Cana (2:4). It presents a need but does not dictate to the Lord how he should respond. In these requests we have a model of intercession that makes a need known to the Lord with humility and a recognition that it is his will that should be done. Such humility and submission are key characteristics of true disciples.
Jesus had responded to his mother by saying it was not yet his hour, a reference to the cross (2:4). Now, however, his hour is fast approaching. Mary and Martha must have known how dangerous it had become for Jesus to be in the vicinity of Jerusalem. They might have known that Jesus could heal at a distance (cf. 4:49-53), yet they seem to want him to come to heal Lazarus (11:21, 32). Perhaps their anxiety for their brother led them to summon Jesus. But love is the laying down of life (cf. 1 Jn 3:16), and the sisters seem to think that Jesus would be willing to risk his life for the sake of their brother, whom he loves. Whatever they may have been thinking, we see that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was indeed willing to risk his life for his friend (cf. 10:11, 15), though he was under no real danger since he was doing the Father's will and under his protection (10:39; cf. 10:29).
Jesus' love for Lazarus and his sisters teaches us that our faith in God's love, even in the midst of adversity, is well grounded. Even those especially dear to God must endure such things (cf. Chrysostom In John 62.1). "The one sick, the others sad, all of them beloved: but He who loved them was both the Savior of the sick, nay more, the Raiser of the dead and the Comforter of the sad" (Augustine In John 49.7).
When Jesus heard the message he said, This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it (v. 4). This response sets the agenda and provides the approach to what will take place. Just as the man's blindness in chapter 9 was an opportunity for the work of God to be manifested (9:3), so the purpose here is the glorification of God and his Son through this sickness. In both cases we see a revelation of the divine activities of life-giving and judgment, though here they are more intense for we are close to the cross and resurrection, the ultimate glorification (12:23; 13:31).
In all that Jesus does we see the glory of God (1:14), for we see God's love and life-giving power. Now, in the raising of Lazarus, we will have the most spectacular manifestation of this glory. God is the one who brings life to the dead out of his love for those in such need. This is the heart of the Gospel. God's glory is thus seen in his victory over death--indeed, it is "possible only through death--first the death of Lazarus, and then the death of Jesus himself!" (Michaels 1989:195).
The close connection between Jesus and the Father clearly presented in chapter 5 and chapters 8--10 is evident here as well. This is one of the few times Jesus refers to himself explicitly as God's Son (cf. 5:25; 10:36, perhaps 3:18). The Son of God will be glorified through this illness and thereby the glory of God himself will be manifested. The Father will be glorified as the source of life, and the Son will be glorified as the one who acts in obedience to the Father and shares in his identity as the source of life (cf. 1:3-4, 10; 5:21, 26; cf. Michaels 1989:195).
When Jesus' mother appealed for help in Cana he put her off with a statement that seemed abrupt or even harsh (2:4). Now, when the most powerful sign is about to be performed, Jesus behaves in an especially shocking manner. John prepares us for this by emphasizing Jesus' love for Lazarus and his sisters (v. 5). Jesus loved them and "therefore" (oun, translated in the NIV as yet) when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days (v. 6). Jesus acts only in accordance with his Father's will (2:4; 7:3-9), not the will of his family or, as we see now, his closest friends. His activity is scandalous, as Mary and Martha will show by their responses (11:21, 32), because he is concerned with God's glory (v. 4), with doing God's will and, as "therefore" indicates, with love for these friends. His love does not feel like love but it is love, and it is for the best in their lives. His delay leads to a greater blessing.There are two possible ways to understand the sequence of events that follow, depending on whether one believes the Bethany where Jesus is staying is in the south or the north. If Bethany is in the south, as most scholars believe, then it would take the messengers one day to reach Jesus and one day for Jesus to reach Lazarus. Since Jesus stayed put for two days and Lazarus has been dead for four days when Jesus does arrive, that means Lazarus must have died on the same day as the messengers set out (cf. Barrett 1978:391). If Bethany is a reference to Batanea in the north the timing would be different. It takes four days to travel from Batanea to where Lazarus is. Since Jesus arrives when Lazarus has been dead for four days, Jesus had waited until Lazarus died before he set out. In either case the two-day delay does not cause the death of Lazarus, since Jesus could not have gotten to him before he died, either because he was dead before the messengers arrived with their message (southern view) or because Jesus would only be halfway there (northern view). In either case the two-day delay does, however, insure that Lazarus will have been dead for four days when Jesus arrives.
When Jesus announces that they are to return to Judea (v. 7), his disciples remind him that the Jewish opponents had just been trying to stone him there (v. 8). The disciples are taking their cues from their circumstances rather than from the Father. They are very aware of the danger their opponents present, but they are not in tune with the voice of the Father. Jesus responds with a cryptic saying, which, as usual, directly addresses the issue at hand but is not able to be understood (vv. 9-10). He uses the imagery of light to put things into perspective for them. In the natural realm one is able to walk without stumbling while there is light, and there is light for a set period of time. One need not worry about stumbling while it is day. The point is that they need not worry about what will happen to them for they have the Light of the World with them (8:12), for with him they are able to get on with the work of the Father (9:4). With the psalmist they can say, "The Lord is my light and my salvation--whom shall I fear?" (Ps 27:1). They should stick with Jesus even when he seems to lead them into danger, for no matter what happens it will work out for the best, even as Lazarus's illness will work for the glory of God. Here is a word of assurance and a call to all believers to take their bearings from God and not from their circumstances.
From this cryptic saying, which goes over their heads, as Thomas' response will soon indicate (v. 16), Jesus spells out why they must now return to Judea: Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up (v. 11; cf. Mt 9:24). The use of the metaphor of sleep to refer to death is common in the ancient world, including ancient Jewish thought (Balz 1972:548-53), but the disciples nevertheless misunderstand and think Jesus is referring to natural sleep (v. 13). This misunderstanding is quite amazing. Who could think that Jesus was concerned about Lazarus's merely falling asleep? And even if this were an acceptable concern--perhaps they think Jesus means Lazarus is now sleeping peacefully after his illness--who could think Jesus would need to be informed that Lazarus would wake up, especially since it would take Jesus up to four days to get to Lazarus, depending on where one thinks Jesus was when he received the news about Lazarus? So it appears the disciples are thinking that Jesus had preternatural knowledge that Lazarus had fallen asleep and that he wanted to go wake him up! There must have been no dull moments with Jesus. He was doing incredible miracles, he was a marked man in the eyes of the authorities, and one never knew what he would say next. The disciples are very disoriented, which should be of some encouragement to us when we feel the same way. Jesus' patience with them is a manifestation of God's grace for which we can only be thankful. "Christ's kindness in putting up with such stupidity in the disciples was remarkable" (Calvin 1959:5).
Jesus has spoken of death as a sleep from which he will awaken the sleeper. Such language has profound implications concerning our Lord's power over death and the continuity of the person in death. Even in death Lazarus is still our friend (v. 11; cf. Westcott 1908:2:84), and he is able to be restored even after his body has begun to decay, which happens by the fourth day. He may have died (v. 14), but they are still going to him (v. 15), that is, "He speaks of the body `sleeping' in the tomb as the man himself" (Westcott 1908:2:86).
It is no wonder, then, that sleep becomes the main way of referring to death in Christian thought beginning with the postapostolic fathers (cf. Balz 1972:555-56). Indeed, our word cemetery comes from the Greek word koimeterion, a place of sleep. Chrysostom says that since Christ died for the life of the world, we no longer call death thanatos (death) but hyptos kai koimesis (two words for sleep) (Chrysostom On the Cemetery and the Cross 1; cf. Balz 1972:556). As he says elsewhere, "What is death at most? It is a journey for a season; a sleep longer than usual! So that if you fear death, you should also fear sleep!" (Chrysostom Concerning the Statues 5.11; cf. 7.1).
Since the disciples do not understand that Jesus is speaking of Lazarus' death, he has to explain it to them (v. 14) and thereby give them his perspective on this opportunity: for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe (v. 15). He has no doubt that he could have cured Lazarus if he had been there, but something even more helpful for their faith is now going to take place. "It is sometimes expedient for disciples that Jesus should be absent from them; cf. 16.7" (Barrett 1978:393). To have faith in the Son of God is far more important than to have health and comfort in this life. Such faith leads to eternal life (20:31), as this miracle will symbolize. This faith is a progressive thing, for here Jesus is talking to those who have believed in him already, and yet he says this miracle is so that you may believe. Faith must be exercised in the face of each new revelation, and each new revelation is taking the disciples nearer to the ultimate revelation in the most extremely scandalous event, the cross--the ultimate revelation of God's light and life and love and thus the ultimate manifestation of God that faith must grasp hold of. As God reveals more of himself and his ways to us we must likewise have a faith that both grasps firmly onto him as he is revealed in Jesus and also is able to be stretched and deepened. Faith enables us to rest in God, but God himself also keeps us on the move as we continue to grow closer to him for ever.
Jesus may be rejoicing, but Thomas, and presumably the other disciples, is not. We usually think of Thomas as "doubting Thomas" from his reactions after the resurrection of the Lord (20:24-28). In the present story we see another facet of Thomas--his loyalty. This is the response of a true disciple. Just as Peter sticks with Jesus even though he does not understand what Jesus is talking about regarding eating his flesh and drinking his blood (6:68), so Thomas is willing to go with Jesus to death (v. 16). He is still fixated with the evident danger (v. 8), and he does not understand the encouraging words Jesus has just spoken (vv. 9-10), but he is attached to Jesus and is going to stay with him, even though he does not see how Jesus' decision makes any sense. Here is an incredible picture of faith. He is not following because he sees how it all fits; he is following out of loyalty to Jesus himself. He is a model disciple at this point. As Thomas follows Jesus into what he thinks is death he is answering the call, expressed in the Synoptics, that "if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it" (Mk 8:34-35).Jesus Reveals Himself to Martha as the Resurrection and the Life (11:17-27) The scene now shifts to Bethany, near Jerusalem, as Jesus arrives and finds that Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days. Burials normally took place on the day of the death (cf. Acts 5:6-10), so he has been dead for four days. For Jews this probably signifies that Lazarus is clearly dead and beginning to decay (cf. m. Yebamot 16:3). A later Jewish text that cites an authority from the early third century A.D. says the mourners should continue to come to the tomb for three days because the dead person continues to be present. Mourning is at its height on the third day, presumably because it is the last time the dead person will be present there. "Bar Kappara taught: Until three days [after death] the soul keeps on returning to the grave, thinking that it will go back [into the body]; but when it sees that the facial features have become disfigured, it departs and abandons it [the body]" (Genesis Rabbah 100:7; cf. Leviticus Rabbah 18:1; Ecclesiastes Rabbah 12:6). Thus, the reference to the fourth day may be quite significant for setting the scene for another dramatic miracle. The healings in this Gospel have taken place in response to desperate needs (cf. Talbert 1992:172) from the son of the royal official who was close to death (4:49), to the man who was paralyzed for thirty-eight years (5:5), to the man born blind (9:1). Now we come to the climax of this sequence.
John spells out that Bethany is quite near Jerusalem (v. 18). This note heightens the drama. Jesus had said he was returning to Judea (v. 7), which the disciples recognized as the place of hostility. Now John makes sure we understand that Jesus has come back to the region of Jerusalem itself, the very heart of the opposition. Jerusalem is also the key place for revelation, and the greatest of all revelations is now starting to unfold.
As Jesus approaches, Martha comes out to meet him. It is unclear why Jesus halted and met her in this way. Some have suggested the desire for relative privacy, but perhaps more likely this reflects the danger he is in by returning to the suburbs of Jerusalem. The crowd of mourners may well contain those who would inform the authorities of Jesus' presence, as indeed does happen after the raising of Lazarus (v. 46).
Martha says, Lord, . . . if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask (v. 21). It is difficult to know how to understand this statement. It is possible to find in her first sentence a rebuke of Jesus (Wallace 1996:703) and in her second sentence a very defective view of Jesus: "She regards Jesus as an intermediary who is heard by God (22), but she does not understand that he is life itself (25)" (Brown 1966:433; cf. Chrysostom In John 62.3). The fact that she says, literally, "I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you" suggests a distance between Jesus and God through the repetition of the word God (not evident in the NIV). Also, the word she uses for ask (aiteo) is not the word used by Jesus for his own prayer to the Father but the word he uses of the disciples' prayer (Westcott 1908:2:89). Thus, there is no doubt that her view of Jesus is defective. Indeed, in this very interchange Jesus is revealing himself more perfectly to her, as he revealed himself to the Samaritan woman, despite her defective views.
But we should also see here a genuine, though defective, faith. Her initial statement (v. 21) need not imply a rebuke. It could simply be a lament (see, for example, Beasley-Murray 1987:190). And although her knowledge of Jesus is defective, nevertheless, she does believe Jesus could have healed Lazarus. And her belief that Jesus' prayers are answered does pick up on the truth of Jesus' dependence upon the Father, as will be illustrated later in this story (vv. 41-42). So there is more here than simple unbelief or defective belief.
Indeed, her statement in verse 22 is actually a profound statement of faith: But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask. It might be that she believed Jesus even now could ask God to raise Lazarus, but her reaction when he actually does raise Lazarus indicates that is not part of her thinking (v. 39). Rather, the greatness of her faith is seen in the words even now (kai nyn). She continues to believe in him even though Lazarus' death seems to call into question the messengers' report that Jesus had said, This sickness will not end in death (v. 4). Moreover, even though Jesus has delayed coming to help, she continues to believe that Jesus is the agent of the gracious God--despite the fact that this graciousness was not present to heal her brother. Her trust in God's love for one that Christ clearly loved (v. 3) is not shaken by what seems like indifference or disregard (cf. Job 13:15; Hab 3:16-19). In this way Martha is an example of stellar faith, which should encourage all believers who face situations in which God seems to be absent or uncaring. The hard parts of life are occasions for learning about God and drawing closer to him.
Jesus' response, Your brother will rise again (v. 23), comes across as a common consolation among those Jews who believed in the future resurrection. That is how Martha takes it (v. 24), which is another case of misunderstanding. Not that her belief in the future resurrection is wrong--indeed, it is confirmed by what takes place. But Jesus is speaking of something more profound, the very foundation upon which the future resurrection itself rests. As almost always in John's Gospel, the key to unlocking Jesus' cryptic sayings is Jesus' own identity.
Martha has expressed her faith in the future resurrection and her brother's place in it (v. 24). Jesus responds to this statement of faith by challenging her with a deeper revelation of himself: I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die (vv. 25-26). All of the "I am" sayings have to do with Christ as the life-giver, as is clearly the case here where we see that he does not just give life, but is life itself. As is made evident in some of the other "I am" sayings, he gives life by becoming our life (for example, 6:51; 15:1).
The main point is that Jesus' own identity spans the gap between the already and the not yet: "The resurrection because the life" (Augustine In John 49.14). Life is the more basic term, and the life Jesus is talking about even encompasses the resurrection life of the world to come (cf. Howard 1943:106-28; Beasley-Murray 1991:1-14). This "already" and "not yet" was met earlier (6:54; cf. 5:24-29). So we have in the raising of Lazarus a revelation of Jesus' authority and his identity as life-giver because he is life itself. Jesus' role goes far beyond our earthly existence.
The two terms Jesus uses, resurrection and life, are unpacked in the statements that follow (Dodd 1953:365). "I am the resurrection": He who believes in me will live, even though he dies (v. 25). This statement addresses Martha directly in the situation she is experiencing with the death of her brother. Jesus' claim is mind-boggling. He says it is faith in him that brings one back to life at the resurrection at the last day. He is the ground of eschatological hope. But then he goes even further. "I am the life": and whoever lives and believes in me will never die (v. 26). The life that comes through believing in Jesus is not interrupted by physical death. "The topic is the nature of the life that the believer has, namely one that death cannot destroy since the believer is in union with him who is the Life" (Beasley-Murray 1987:191). "By taking humanity into Himself He has revealed the permanence of man's individuality and being. But this permanence can be found only in union with Him. Thus two main thoughts are laid down: Life (resurrection) is present, and this Life is in a Person" (Westcott 1908:2:90).
Martha has confessed her faith in the resurrection (v. 24), and now Jesus has revealed himself to be the source of resurrection and life itself. He asks her, Do you believe this? (v. 26). She, like the former blind man (9:35-38), is given the opportunity to make a confession of faith. She does so in a statement that "echoes earlier confessions in the Gospel (1:42, 49) and anticipates the statement of its purpose in 20:30-31" (Beasley-Murray 1987:192). She responds, Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world (v. 27). She does not repeat the terms Jesus has used, but she combines two of the most common titles used for Jesus in this Gospel. It would seem that she does not really grasp what Jesus is saying, as will be clear from her response when he does raise Lazarus (v. 39). So her use of more common titles may be a sign that she has not understood him. But her faith is still genuine and solid, for it is in Jesus himself. She is not grasping all that he is saying about himself, but she is sticking with him and confessing as much as she knows, which is what faith is all about. As the events of the raising of Lazarus unfold Jesus will instruct her in what he has just claimed, thus bringing her step by step in her knowledge of who he is and what he is offering so she may respond in faith. "The relevance of faith lies not in the power of faith as such, but in the fact that faith creates communion with Jesus and that through Jesus believers receive the gift of life" (Schnackenburg 1980b:332). This example of patient progress in our Lord's dealing with Martha should be a great encouragement to those of us who are not always quick on the uptake when it comes to God's revelation of himself to us.
While Martha's use of terms may suggest her lack of comprehension, the effect her statement has in the unfolding revelation in this Gospel is more positive. Jesus' language of resurrection and life is combined with a common Jewish term, Christ, and John's favorite title for Jesus, Son (of God). This combination brings together several strands of thought and makes them interpret one another. The most fundamental category in John is life. At this point, when Jesus most clearly speaks of himself as life, other major terms are brought in, thus suggesting that they should be interpreted in the light of this theme of life as well. Thus, Martha's confession and Jesus' claim provide a major point of revelation in this Gospel.Jesus Meets with Mary (11:28-32) After Martha made her confession of faith Jesus apparently sent her to call her sister Mary, since she tells Mary, The Teacher is here . . . and is asking for you (v. 28; more literally, "he is calling you," phonei se). The designation of Jesus as teacher is interesting after the more exalted terms of Martha's confession. But it is appropriate since he had just given her a teaching.
Mary runs to Jesus (v. 29), as had Martha (v. 20), showing that they had a great attachment to Jesus, which reciprocated his love for them. In coming to Jesus in the midst of suffering the sisters provide a model for all believers.
John tells us that Martha gives her message secretly (v. 28) and that Mary and Jesus meet apart from the crowd (v. 30) so it would seem Jesus desires privacy, perhaps, as noted above, because he is a marked man in this region. But his cover is blown when those who were mourning with Mary follow her, thinking she was going to wail at the tomb (v. 31). So all the mourners in the house gather at the tomb, providing witnesses to what is about to happen and thus giving them the opportunity to believe--and others as well through their testimony.
When Mary reaches Jesus, she falls at his feet and said, "Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died" (v. 32). This is exactly what her sister had said (v. 21). It would seem the sisters had been sharing this thought with one another (Westcott 1908:2:94). Whether her statement is rebuke or lamentation is unclear, as it is in the case of Martha. It could have elements of both, though the fact that she is wailing (v. 33) suggests lamentation is her main response. Mary does not add an expression of faith as Martha had (v. 22), though falling at Jesus' feet may suggest a similar attitude.Jesus Calls Lazarus Back from the Dead (11:33-44) The wailing of Mary and those with her provokes a strong emotional reaction in Jesus. The NIV translation, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled (v. 33), is common among English translations, but it does not do justice to the language. The word for deeply moved (embrimaomai) can be used of snorting in animals (for example, Aeschylus Seven Against Thebes 461) and in humans refers to anger (Beasley-Murray 1987:192-93). The second word, troubled (tarasso), is literally "troubled himself" (etaraxen heauton). So a better translation would be, "became angry in spirit and very agitated" (Beasley-Murray 1987:192-93).
Clearly the wailing provokes his response, but there are two very different ways to understand the nature of this reaction. Some would see Jesus as upset over their obtuseness and lack of faith, which is evident in their wailing (Schnackenburg 1980b:336; Beasley-Murray 1987:193). In this case we would have an occasion similar to his upbraiding of the disciples for their little faith at the stilling of the storm in the Synoptics. As Matthew tells that story, Jesus upbraids them before he stills the storm, while they are still being tossed about (Mt 8:26; contrast Mk 4:39-40; Lk 8:24-25)! There is not, however, a clear note of anger in those stories such as we find here (though see Mt 17:17 par. Mk 9:19 par. Lk 9:41).
Others suggest Jesus is angry at death itself and the pain and sadness it causes evident in the wailing (Westcott 1908:2:96; Brown 1966:435; Michaels 1989:203). This could be a parallel with the emotion Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk 14:33), "prompted by the imminence of death and the struggle with Satan" (Brown 1966:435; cf. Chrysostom In John 63.2), though there it is more like sadness.
Either interpretation gets at a truth. Since the focus of this chapter is the theme of life, death is the more likely object of his anger. In a Gospel in which life is one of the primary themes, death is clearly the great enemy. Also, anger at their lack of faith would not be appropriate since they have not been faithless, though theirs is an imperfect faith. And he has no reason to expect the Jews present to trust in him, especially since they did not hear his revelation to Martha. Thus, his anger is most likely not at their imperfect faith, but at death itself and the reign of terror it exercises.
Jesus asks where they have laid Lazarus, and they reply, come and see, Lord (v. 34). Their wailing had triggered anger; now their invitation triggers weeping (v. 35). Jesus has not yet come to the tomb (v. 38), so he is not weeping over Lazarus. There would be no reason to do so anyway, at least on his part. It is their invitation that wrings his heart. He does not wail (klaio) like them. Rather, he weeps (dakryo), that is, sheds tears. He is not in anguish over the death of Lazarus, but rather saddened by the pain and sadness they feel. He is weeping with those who weep (Rom 12:15) because he loves them. The grief caused by death is one facet of death's evil that caused his anger. He is angry at death and saddened at grief. In both cases the reason is the same, namely, his love for his friends. The love of God for us and his wrath toward that which corrupts and destroys us are two sides of a single coin.
Though Jesus' weeping was not over the death of Lazarus itself, his weeping--not wailing--has rightly been taken as a model of Christian mourning. Paul says we should not "grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope" (1 Thess 4:13). "He wept over Lazarus. So should you; weep, but gently, but with decency, but with the fear of God. If you weep thus, you do so not as disbelieving the resurrection, but as not enduring the separation. Since even over those who are leaving us, and departing to foreign lands, we weep, yet we do this not as despairing" (Chrysostom In John 62.4). But for believers, the separation is only for a while. Jesus' raising of Lazarus shows that his death was not final and that Jesus has the power over death. We may miss the one who has died and thus be saddened, but perfect love casts out wailing.
The Jewish mourners take note of how much Jesus loved Lazarus. They have interpreted his tears correctly. But then some of them go on to say, Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying? (v. 37). This is often taken as a statement of unbelief, which then provokes Jesus' anger again (v. 38; for example, Schnackenburg 1980b:337). But something much more profound is going on. This link back to the healing of the blind man is relevant, for that miracle was unheard of and actually bore witness to Jesus as the agent of creation (see comment on 9:6). If one has such powers, then it is reasonable to ask whether he could have prevented this death. This is not so much unbelief as it is puzzlement. It looks like death is stronger than Jesus despite the implications of his healing the man born blind.
So Jesus' anger in verse 38 is not at their lack of faith as such, but again at death and its challenge to him as life-giver. Jesus came to the tomb in this state of anger (embrimomenos, present participle; see comment on 11:33), ready to exercise his power over death and thereby initiating the process that will lead to his own death and decisive victory over death. "Christ does not come to the sepulchre as an idle spectator, but like a wrestler preparing for the contest. Therefore no wonder that He groans again, for the violent tyranny of death which He had to overcome stands before His eyes" (Calvin 1959:13).
Jesus orders the mourners to take the stone away from the entrance of the tomb (v. 39). Martha's objection that there would be a stench due to decomposition highlights the greatness of this sign. Jesus is raising someone who should already have begun to decay. There is no indication in the story that Lazarus comes out bearing marks of decay. Here we should see, as we saw with the giving of sight to the blind man, a revelation of Jesus' power and authority as the agent of creation. He does not just bring the person back to life by reuniting soul and body, he also restores the body itself. Thus, not only is the raising of Lazarus a sign of Jesus' identity and authority as life-giver, it also reflects the reality of the resurrection of the body. God is able to restore physical bodies after decay. The analogy is not complete, since Lazarus is not raised as an imperishable, spiritual body, as will be the case at the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor 15:42-44). But there is a continuity between the spiritual body and the physical body: it is a bodily resurrection. The overcoming of corruption in the raising of Lazarus thus provides, in part, a sign of the future resurrection.
The messengers had reported that Jesus said this illness is for God's glory (v. 4), and when Jesus met with Martha he presented himself to her as the object of faith. Now Jesus refers back to that conversation, though not in exactly the same words, at least as reported by John (cf. also 6:36, Schnackenburg 1980b:338). Jesus does not say that his ability to raise Lazarus is dependent on her faith. Rather, seeing God's glory depends upon her faith. Since she does indeed benefit from this sign it seems that her faith, defective as it may be, is nevertheless sufficient at this stage in God's eyes for her to see his glory. The repetition of the theme of God's glory at this point, just before the raising, keeps our focus on what is most significant. Here is the most powerful sign of Jesus' power and authority, but it does not point to him except as evidence that he is doing what he sees the Father doing. He is here to glorify God, not himself.
This dependency upon the Father is further emphasized in Jesus' prayer. Indeed, prayer itself is the form of speech that directly corresponds to the most significant thing about Jesus--his relationship with God, his Father. Each part of this prayer reveals something about that relationship. He looked up, or, more literally, he "lifted up his eyes" (v. 41; cf. Ps 123:1; Lam 3:41; 1 Esdras 4:58; 4 Maccabees 6:26; Mt 14:19 par. Mk 6:41 par. Lk 9:16; Jn 17:1), a gesture of looking away from self and toward God. It implies otherness and transcendence. But this gesture of transcendence is immediately juxtaposed with a word of intimacy, Father, the main title for God in this Gospel. Indeed, for Christians, God is now known primarily as the Father of Jesus. Our language for God as Father has its source in Jesus' own revelation of God. It is his relationship with God that a Christian enters into and thus comes to know God as Jesus knows him, within the limitations of human nature.
We do not hear an actual petition but rather Jesus' thanksgiving that the Father heard him (v. 41). The communication between the Father and the Son regarding Lazarus had taken place much earlier, since he already announced what would take place when the messengers arrived with the news (v. 4). We here see the Son as subordinate to the Father, bringing a request to the Father. But far more is involved, for he goes on to say, I knew that you always hear me (v. 42). The clear teaching of the Old Testament is that God listens to the righteous, not the unrighteous, except for prayers of repentance (see note on 9:31). Thus, Jesus is claiming to be righteous before God and in unbroken fellowship with him. He knows he is heard; he has utter confidence in this relationship. "Jesus lives in constant prayer and communication with his Father. When he engages in vocal prayer, he is not entering, as we do, from a state of non-praying into prayer. He is only giving overt expression to what is the ground and base of his life all along. He emerges from non-vocal to vocal prayer here in order to show that the power he needs . . . for the raising of Lazarus . . . depends on the gift of God. It is through that prayer and communion and constant obedience to his Father's will that he is the channel of the Father's saving action. That is why the prayer is a thanksgiving rather than a petition" (Fuller 1963:107).
He vocalizes his prayer for the sake of the crowd: I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me (v. 42). In other words, it is not enough for people to be impressed with Jesus. They must believe in him as the one sent from God. It is precisely because Jesus is sent from God and does as God directs him that he is heard by God. The Father as the sender is primary. Jesus is not a wonderworker who is able to get God to do what he wants him to do. He is the obedient Son sent by the Father to do the Father's will. The Father's will and the Son's petition coincide exactly. Later Jesus will say that his followers are to share in this same relationship through their union with him, and thereby they will also be heard by the Father (14:11-14; 15:7, 16; 16:24). In such prayer, as also in the case of Jesus' prayer, "It is not the setting up of the will of self, but the apprehension and taking to self of the divine will, which corresponds with the highest good of the individual" (Westcott 1908:2:101).
In saying the purpose of this prayer is that they might believe, Jesus is again acting with divine graciousness and mercy. Such belief brings eternal life. Thus, this miracle is not just for the sake of Lazarus and his sisters, who already do have such faith and the life it brings, but for others that they may have life. The miracle reveals Jesus as the life-giver sent from the Father, and one receives life from him as one has faith in him. We see the grace of God evident in several ways in this story. This last miraculous sign continues to reveal the glory of God as have all the others.
After the prayer comes the deed: Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" (v. 43). Jesus could have healed Lazarus when he was still sick with a word of command, even across the miles. But now he utters a mightier word across a much greater distance--that between the living and the dead. The voice at the end of the age is heard here ahead of time (cf. 5:28; 1 Thess 4:16). The Word through whom all was made (1:1-3) here speaks forth life. Those standing around were given tasks to do, such as taking away the stone and unbinding Lazarus. The physical contact helped drive home the reality of what was happening. But for Jesus, his work is his word.
Perhaps, as is often suggested, he had to include Lazarus' name or all the dead would have come forth! The dead man still existed as Lazarus and could be called by name, for those who believe in Christ never die (v. 26). Jesus does not actually say something like "Rise" (contrast Mk 5:41 par. Lk 8:54; Lk 7:14). Rather, it seems the very calling of his name brought Lazarus back, and the call to come out that followed was "the command to use the new-given life" (Westcott 1908:2:102).
Lazarus came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face (v. 44), presumably hopping or perhaps shuffling. It is unclear what was involved in burial in the first century (Brown 1994:2:1243-44; Green 1992:89). The NIV assumes we should picture Lazarus as a mummy, with strips of cloth passing around and around his body. This interpretation may be correct (cf. Brown 1994:2:1264), but there is evidence for the use of a single large sheet as the main covering (Brown 1994:2:1244-45). So it has been suggested that the Jewish custom was not to wind the corpse like a mummy, but rather to use a cloth like that of the Shroud of Turin. "The corpse would have been placed on a strip of linen, wide and long enough to envelop it completely. The feet would be placed at one end, and the cloth would then be drawn over the head to the feet, the feet would be bound at the ankles, and the arms secured to the body with linen bandages, and the face bound round with another cloth to keep the jaw in place" (Sanders 1968:276). The separate cloth used to bind up the jaw is mentioned in later sources (m. shabbat 23:5; cf. Safrai and Stern 1974-1976:2:773), though this cloth in verse 44 may refer rather to a covering for the face (Beasley-Murray 1987:195).
Jesus gives yet another command, Take off the grave clothes and let him go (v. 44). This is a cry of victory. The grave has been defeated and liberty achieved. It is only a partial sign of the coming victory of Jesus' resurrection, since Lazarus will need to die again and enter the grave until the final resurrection. But it is a great sign of the life that is stronger than death, which those who believe in Jesus share. And it is a graphic sign of Jesus' own power and authority.
The call to loose Lazarus and let him go picks up "the biblical imagery of `loosing' for victory over death and the powers of evil (for example, Matt. 16:19; Luke 13:16; Acts 2:24; cf. John 8:32-36)" (Michaels 1989:207). As such, this story speaks to all Christians bound by the fear of death and, on another level, bound by various sins. The Christian is in union with the one who himself is resurrection and life. As Christ offers freedom from the power of sin (8:32-36), so faith in Christ as resurrection and life brings freedom from the fear of death (cf. Heb 2:14-15).
Few would deny the theological and spiritual power of this story, but many would question whether the raising of Lazarus ever in fact took place. Some would say miracles do not happen, so therefore this could not have happened. This perspective derives more from prejudice than scientific observation and seems to be on the wane. But even those who believe such a thing could happen are suspicious of this story since it is not recounted in the Synoptics. If this event is so climactic, as John suggests, then this omission is striking. But neither John nor the Synoptics are trying to tell the whole story. John leaves out similar miracles in the Synoptics: the raising of Jairus's' daughter (Mt 9:18-19, 23-26 par. Mk 5:21-24, 35-43 par. Lk 8:40-42, 49-56) and the raising of the widow's son at Nain (Lk 7:11-17). So the omission is not that unusual. John includes this story because he sees in it the theological climax of Jesus' public ministry. It is also, from John's perspective, the key factor in the Jewish leaders' decision to have Jesus eliminated (11:53). John is fitting the pieces together to highlight the truth of what takes place in Jesus' ministry. That is very different from saying he is making up stories to illustrate his theology. "He who wrote the Gospel of the Word made flesh viewed history as of first importance; he would never have related a story of Jesus, still less created one, that he did not have reason to believe took place" (Beasley-Murray 1987:199). Thus, while the story of Lazarus looks suspicious to some, its historicity can be accounted for (cf. further Westcott 1908:2:77-79; Beasley-Murray 1987:199-201; Harris 1986:310-17).Both Faith and Rejection Arise from the Raising of Lazarus (11:45-54) As a result of this miracle there is again a variety of responses. Many put faith in Jesus (v. 45), but others inform the authorities (v. 46). John does not make clear whether their trip to the authorities is innocent or a betrayal of Jesus. At an earlier stage the crowd was well aware of the authorities' concerns over Jesus (7:13, 25), and their animosity deepened significantly at the Feast of Dedication (10:31-39), leading Jesus to withdraw from the area (10:40-42). So it may well be that this is another betrayal of Jesus, similar to the lame man's betrayal earlier in Jesus' ministry (5:15).
The report alarms the Pharisees, and so the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin (v. 47). The Sanhedrin was the supreme Jewish court in Jerusalem, which, under Roman oversight, "had both religious and political powers and comprised the elite (both priestly and lay) of society" (Moulder 1988:331). Both Sadducees and Pharisees were part of the Sanhedrin. Which of the two was the dominate part is uncertain (Schürer 1973-1987:2:213), though John implies it was the chief priests (7:45, 48; cf. 12:10). The chief priests were members of high-priestly families, along with others from prominent priestly families (cf. Acts 4:6), including, perhaps, temple officers like the treasurer and captain of police (Hubbard 1996:961; cf. Jeremias 1969:160-81; Schürer 1973-1987:2:235-36). Of the fifty-four references to chief priests in the Gospels, all of them are associated with Jerusalem, and almost all of them concern Jesus' final conflict (the exceptions are Mt 2:4; Jn 7:32, 45). In John's Gospel the Pharisees are also closely associated with Jerusalem. When John mentions opponents outside Jerusalem or its environs he uses the term "the Jews" (6:41, 52; see comment on 1:19).
Thus the two chief components of the Sanhedrin now call the Sanhedrin together. Both the Pharisees and the chief priests had attempted to apprehend Jesus earlier (7:32, 45), but now the situation is reaching a crisis, as they see his popularity rising. The low point after the feeding of the five thousand, at which almost everyone deserted Jesus (6:66), is now past and many are believing in him. Like many religious leaders since, Jesus is accused of being a threat to national security. Jesus' popularity could look like a popular uprising that would require calling in the Roman legions (cf. Acts 19:23-41, especially 19:40), who would come and take away both our place and our nation (Jn 11:48). As the NIV footnote indicates, place here refers to the temple (cf. H. Koester 1972:204). The position of the word our is emphatic. In fact, this could be translated, "will come and take away from us both our place and our nation." While they seem concerned for the nation, John says they are actually concerned about their own self-interests, as are the hirelings Jesus condemned earlier (10:12; cf. Westcott 1908:2:105). The irony is that they do destroy the temple of Jesus' body (cf. 2:19, 21), but this does not prevent the Romans from destroying their temple and their nation, nor does it prevent increasing numbers of people from believing in Jesus. Their plot prevented neither of the things they feared, even though they succeeded in getting Jesus killed.
Caiaphas, who ruled as high priest for a very long time by the standards of the day (A.D. 18-36), speaks up: You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish (vv. 49-50). Here again the self-interest is evident (for you). This is a very significant statement for John, as is evident from his dwelling on it (vv. 51-52). Unknown to Caiaphas, he had in fact prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation (v. 51). Caiaphas is thinking of Jesus' death in place of the destruction of the nation by Rome, but John sees the divine intent that Jesus die in place of the nation for their sin. Here, along with 1:29, is the clearest expression in this Gospel of Jesus' death as dealing with sin. John focuses on the cross as revelation (Forestell 1974), but here we see that he also affirms the cross as atonement. The cross as revelation alone leads to Gnosticism, as John discovered in his own communities, hence the emphasis in 1 John on the atonement aspect (1 Jn 2:2; 4:10, cf. Whitacre 1982:156-57). But those members of the community who headed off in gnostic directions were not true to John's teaching in its fullness. John's experience in his community is a cautionary tale. Each aspect of the Gospel needs to be in place, or some deformed shape will emerge. The period of the New Testament saw the articulation of a variety of ways to express the Gospel, with the Holy Spirit guiding and protecting. The unity and diversity we now have in the canon provides a composite shape to the faith that is a guide to the truth of the Gospel--that is what "canon" means.
Caiaphas refers to the people (laos) and the nation (ethnos), but in the next verse John only uses nation. The word laos was not used frequently in classical Greek, but it occurs more than two thousand times in the Septuagint, having become "a specific term for a specific people, namely, Israel, and it serves to emphasize the special and privileged religious position of this people as the people of God" (Strathmann and Meyer 1967:32). Thus, John's refusal to use laos may be significant in the light of the theme of Jesus' departure from the temple and the formation of the core of the new community around him (see comments on 8:59 and 10:1-21). "The Jews at this crisis had ceased to be `a people.' They were a `nation' only, as one of the nations of the world. The elements of the true `people' were scattered throughout the world, as Jews, and Jews of the Dispersion, and Gentiles" (Westcott 1908:2:107).
Caiaphas is only thinking of the Jewish nation, but John sees the significance of Jesus' death to extend to all of humanity (v. 52). Jesus death is also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. The idea of gathering together God's scattered people is a hope found extensively in the Old Testament (for example, Is 11:12; Jer 31:8; Ezek 11:17; Mic 2:12-13; 2 Macc 1:27). Now this gathering will begin to take place in the most unusual way--through the death of the Messiah. Jesus' work as the Good Shepherd (10:16) is accomplished through his death, as he himself will emphasize shortly (12:32). So even in this passage, which touches on the atoning significance of his death, other aspects are developed as well. The oneness with God that the atonement accomplishes is complemented by the oneness of the people of God drawn from the whole of the human race. They are already referred to as children of God since each one who enters Christ's community has been given to him by the Father (6:37) and has responded in faith and has been born again (1:12). John places great stress on the individual, but here we see his appreciation of the corporate whole (cf. Brown 1966:443). The nature of this unity will be brought out soon (chaps. 14--17), but for now we see that it is Christ, especially Christ crucified, that unites the people of God.
The Sanhedrin comes to the decision to kill Jesus (v. 53). There had been attempts to take his life already (5:18; 7:1, 19 ; 8:59; 10:31), but now the decision had been reached in an official manner by the central authority for the Jewish people. "Jesus is formally devoted to death by a vote of the competent authority. This is, in fact, the act by which, in its historical or `objective' aspect, the death of Christ is determined" (Dodd 1953:367). They plotted in the NIV does not do justice to the Greek ebouleusanto, which means, rather, that they "resolved," "determined" or even "passed a resolution" (Bammel 1970:30). Thus, by giving life to Lazarus, Jesus has sealed his own death. In what follows we see the even greater irony that through his death comes life for the world.
Jesus knows of this increased danger, though we are not told whether he knows this through an informant, preternatural knowledge or just common sense. He goes back into seclusion once again, this time to Ephraim (v. 54; cf. 10:40). It is not certain where Ephraim was located, though it was probably four miles to the northeast of Bethel, which places it some fifteen miles north-northeast of Jerusalem (cf. Barrett 1978:408; Brown 1966:441). His movement in and out of seclusion shows him working around the intentions of his enemies as he works out the intentions of his Father. There is a similar pattern in his work in the lives of his followers today. He moves in and out of seclusion in our lives, not because his life is threatened but as part of his love for us, to wean us from false attachments, even false views we may have of God himself.