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.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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