“Jesus said, ‘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” John 11:25).
Chapter 11 of the Gospel of John records the climax of a series of “signs” that unify and authenticate the public ministry of Jesus (chapters 2-12). This chapter contains the most striking miracle in John’s Gospel and the longest account of any miracle in the New Testament—the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
The miracle took place about one month before Jesus’ crucifixion. It was the third recording of Jesus raising someone from the dead. He raised Jairus’ daughter before the funeral (Mark 5:35), the son of the widow of Nain during the funeral (Luke 7:11-17), and Lazarus after the funeral (John 11). The only negative outcome of the three resurrections is that the gospels give no guidance on how to conduct a funeral. Jesus broke up every service He attended!
Jesus had temporarily retreated from public life (10:40-42), no doubt because He knew the ominous events ahead. This hiatus comes between the controversies in Jerusalem described in chapters 7-10 of John’s Gospel and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem before Passover (12:12-19).
Jesus had been well received “across the Jordan” in Perea, “the place where John had been baptizing” (10:40). John the Baptist accomplished his mission. He had lived up to his own preaching: “He must become greater; I must become less” (3:30). He had indeed” [made] straight the way for the Lord” (1:23).
The fact that Jesus was generally accepted in Galilee, Samaria and now in Perea is significant. When it became apparent that the populace would also soon accept Him in Jerusalem, the authorities took steps to kill Him. Following the raising of Lazarus, the members of the Sanhedrin (the 70-member Jewish religious council) came to a doleful conclusion: “If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (11:48).
THE GOSPELS GIVE NO GUIDANCE
GUIDANCE ON HOW TO CONDUCT
A FUNERAL. JESUS BROKE UP EVERY
SERVICE HE ATTENDED!
John begins his narrative by first establishing Jesus’ deep affection for Lazarus and Mary and Martha, his sisters. John quotes the sisters’ urgent message to Jesus: “Lord, the one You love [philias] is sick” (11:3). Two verses later, John reveals the depth of ]esus’ love for the family by clarifying that “Jesus loved [agape] Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (5). The Greek word for “love” in verse three suggests a “close friendship,” while the word in verse five signifies a “pure, unselfish love.” Jesus had a special love for this family.
One reason for Jesus’ love for Lazarus, Mary and Martha may be that they were a wealthy family who apparently chose to live among the poor. Lazarus had a “family tomb”—a sure sign of first-century wealth. In addition, it was Mary who “poured perfume on the Lord and wiped His feet with her hair” (11:2). Only the wealthy could afford such a lavish display of affection. Since the word Bethany (Hebrew: Bét-a-ni) means “House of the Poor,” many poor families probably lived in this modest village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The wealthy normally lived within the protection of city walls.
When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus “had already been in the tomb four days” (17). Lazarus had died around the time the messengers reached Jesus with the news that “the one you love is sick” (3). Knowing what miracle He would perform “for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (4), Jesus tarried for two more days to make sure that Lazarus had died. It took Jesus and the disciples two days to traverse the steep, treacherous road from Perea to Bethany, traveling about 20 miles a day. By the time they arrived, Lazarus had been dead for at least four days. Jesus wanted to ensure that everyone understood that Lazarus was dead. Though not taught by the rabbis, a popular belief persisted that the spirit of a dead person hovered around the body for three days. A resurrection on the fourth day would be striking because all hope for natural restoration would have gone.
Characteristic of the sisters, Martha went out to meet Jesus while Mary initially remained in the house (20). After comforting them, Jesus came to the tomb and ordered the stone covering removed. He stood above the entrance, and through a small opening in the side of the inner tomb He called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” (43). Those nearby were astonished to see Lazarus, still wearing his grave shroud, ascend the few steps from the inner tomb. Jesus’ words to Martha now brimmed with life-giving certainty: “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” (25-26).
Throughout the two millennia that have followed, Jesus turns to every person and asks the question He addressed to Martha: “Do you believe [I am the resurrection and the life]?” (25-26). May our answer ever be the same as hers: “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God who was to come into the world.”
Commissioner William W. Francis is a retired officer. He is also the author of The Stones Cry Out (USA Eastern Territory, 1993) and Celebrate the Feasts of the Lord (Crest Books, 1997), and is a frequent contributor to the War Cry and other Salvation Army publications.