The Miracles of Jesus Part 33: Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead in Bethany
John 11:1-46, Luke 10:38-42. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.
“Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. So the sisters sent word to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 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.”
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was sick, He then stayed two days longer in the place where He was. Then after this He *said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples *said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” This He said, and after that He *said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.”
Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep. So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.” So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus *said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha *said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” 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.”
When she had said this, she went away and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she *got up quickly and was coming to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary got up quickly and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 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.” When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They *said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.
So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?” So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, *came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 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.” Jesus *said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 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.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” 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.” Therefore many of the Jews who came to Mary, and saw what He had done, believed in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done.”
John 11:1-46 NASB1995
One of the most consequential miracles of Jesus is documented only in the Gospel of John, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. I hope you stay with me through this, because this devotional is going to be rather long (to put it mildly). This is a pivotal point in the late ministry of Jesus and the ultimate evidence that HE is the Messiah. Enduring Word commentary by David Guzik on this passage in John is phenomenal and is used in several places.
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There is significant debate among Biblical scholars as to why this extraordinary event is only documented in John. Commentary in Enduring Word by David Guzik has a couple of theories:
“It is surprising that the other evangelists have omitted so remarkable an account as this is, in which some of the finest traits in our Lord’s character are exhibited. The conjecture of [Hugo] Grotius has a good deal of weight. He thinks that the other three evangelists wrote their histories during the life of Lazarus; and that they did not mention him for fear of exciting the malice of the Jews against him.” (Adam Clarke)
[Henry] Morris suggested another reason the Synoptic Gospels did not include the account of the raising of Lazarus is that Peter was not present; in these months he was in Galilee while Jesus was in Perea and Bethany. Many think that the Synoptic Gospels are centered on Peter’s account of Jesus’ teaching and ministry.
I find both theories to be plausible, with the synoptic Gospels being mostly reliant on the testimony of Peter (and he was probably not there), and also the possibility that Lazarus was still alive so that miracle was omitted from Matthew, Mark and Luke to spare his life.
The apostle John recorded seven signs in his Gospel that Jesus performed (not including the second miraculous catch of fish after the Resurrection in Galilee, which will be the last in this complete series). Those seven signs are these miracles that have been covered in this devotional series, with the raising of Lazarus the topic for this devotional:
Water to wine at the wedding at Cana
Healing of the official’s son at a distance
Healing of the invalid at the pool at Bethesda
Feeding of the 5000+ (the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels)
Walking on water (also recorded in Matthew and Mark)
Healing of a man born blind
Raising of Lazarus from the dead
Also, most Biblical scholars agree (at the embedded link) that John wrote his Gospel well after Mark and/or Matthew - there are arguments as to whether Matthew or Mark was first - and Luke. John had his own unique way of bringing the story of Jesus to believers, going back to the “beginning”, with Jesus as the Word and the Creator and part of the Trinity. John focuses on the divinity of Jesus and this apostle’s poetic and beautiful words are primarily targeted at the community of Gentiles and unbelievers who are seeking. In fact, we have pocket testaments that we can hand out to people from the Pocket Testament League and they are based on the Gospel of John.
Now, let’s look at this miracle. Jesus is closely acquainted with Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha and, in fact, it is described that He loves them. The three live in Bethany, a town that was only two miles from Jerusalem in those days, located just southeast of the Mount of Olives. Jesus often stayed with them when visiting Jerusalem.
Word was sent to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. He told His disciples that this sickness was not to death and was for the glory of God and then He stayed two days longer in the place where they were located (believed to be Bethbara). This delay was probably agonizing for Mary and Martha and perplexing to the disciples. Jesus, however, knew that Lazarus was already dead at this point and that this chain of events would set in motion the final plans to arrest Him and crucify Him, thus truly glorifying God.
He then tells His disciples that they are going to Judea again. They protest, saying that He was almost stoned to death the last time they were there. He replies with this wonderful wisdom:
“Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
I like this Commentary from Enduring Word on this passage:
Are there not twelve hours in the day? Jesus’ disciples were shocked that He would return to the region of Judea when He was a wanted man there. Jesus responded by saying that He still had work to do. The twelve hours were a figurative way to speak of the time allotted by God the Father for the earthly work of Jesus.
There are many practical applications of this wise statement.
Nothing can shorten our time.
There is enough time for everything that needs to be done.
We only have that time, so it must not be wasted.
“Jesus is saying that a man must finish the day’s work within the day, for the night comes when work is ended.” (William Barclay)
“There are but twelve hours in the day, and it will be sunset before you dream of it. Get done what God has sent you here to do.” (George Morrison)
If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble: During these hours no harm could come to Jesus and the disciples. They had to work before the night of Jesus’ passion.
Jesus again tells the disciples that Lazarus sleeps. They assume this means he is not dead, but because they don’t understand, Jesus plainly speaks and tells them that Lazarus is dead and He is glad for their sakes, so that they may believe. An aside - if these thick-skulled disciples don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus by this point, one more amazing miracle is not going to seal the deal. And Thomas (also known as Didymus) says that they should go and die with Lazarus, too (isn’t he a cheerful sort?). We all know this Thomas as the same one who refused to believe in the Resurrection until he saw the nail marks and the wound in the side of Jesus. He was a faithful apostle, though.
So off they go to Bethany. By this time, Lazarus has been entombed four days. Jewish superstitions said that the soul stayed near the grave for three days in case of a resuscitation, finally leaving at four days because there was no hope at that point. Because of its proximity to Jerusalem, many Jews who were friends with this threesome are there to mourn Lazarus. Martha, hearing that Jesus is finally on His way, goes to meet Him while Mary stays in the house. When Martha reaches Him, she tells Him that had He arrived sooner, she is certain her brother would not be dead, but she also speaks in great faith, that even now she knows that whatever He asks of God, God will give it to Him. Jesus tells her Lazarus will rise again and He means in a short time, although Martha is thinking of the final resurrection of the soul.
Now Jesus states one of His remarkable “I AM” truths to Martha (I wrote about these seven John statements quite a long time ago on this site):
“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Enduring Word has some wonderful commentary about this, with some superb Charles Spurgeon quotes:
He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live: Jesus boldly challenged Martha to trust that He was the source of eternal life. Jesus presented Himself as the champion over death. While humanity in general fears death, the Christian can only fear dying. The believer will never die, but simply make an instant transition from an old life to a new life.
“Those that believe in Jesus Christ appear to die, but yet they live. They are not in the grave, they are forever with the Lord. They are not unconscious they are with their Lord in Paradise. Death cannot kill a believer, it can only usher him into a freer form of life.” (Charles Spurgeon)
“Jesus does not of course mean that the believer will not die physically. Lazarus was dead even then, and millions of Jesus’ followers have died since. But He means that he will not die in the sense in which death has eternal significance.” (Henry Morris)
“Death comes to the ungodly man as a penal infliction, but to the righteous as a summons to his Father’s palace: to the sinner it is an execution, to the saint an undressing. Death to the wicked is the King of terrors: death to the saint is the end of terrors, the commencement of glory.” (Charles Spurgeon)
Jesus made an enormous claim: I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. Only God could say such things in truth.
Steve had a wonderful encounter quite a few years ago when my Dad was in hospice, nearing death. He talked to a man in the hallway of the small building who was ecstatic about his father passing away and finally entering the gates of the Kingdom of God. The man was a fervent believer, as was his father, and he was joyful and triumphant even in his tears. At the time, we were still getting our toes “wet”, so to speak, in our return to faith and Steve was uncertain about being “joyous” when someone dies. I know now that we can celebrate believers at this transition even while we mourn for them not being with us, yet we must mourn even more profoundly for the lost, which makes evangelism so important. We are all destined for eternal life and must choose the right path and Jesus has appointed us as harvesters to bring souls to Him.
Back to our miracle: Martha confesses her faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. She leaves and secretly tells her sister Mary that the Teacher is here and calling for her. The rabbis of that time refused to teach women, but Jesus was different, as we all know. Here is a passage from Luke on these two sisters:
“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.””
Luke 10:38-42 NASB1995
Mary was a devoted pupil of the teachings of Jesus, whereas Martha, at the time of this visit, was too concerned with being a good hostess. But as we can see in the passage in John, Martha obviously paid attention, too, and believed in Jesus as the Messiah along with her sister.
Mary goes to Jesus and says almost the exact same words as Martha. We don’t know her tone of voice. She expressed her faith in Him but was also probably frustrated that Jesus was delayed in coming, not thinking that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus sees her tears and the tears of the mourners and is deeply moved and groaned in His Spirit and was troubled. Jesus hates the tyranny of death and is probably even angry at its destructive power in His creation, not just grieved. Then comes the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept. Turning to Commentary once again from Enduring Word, here are some powerful words about Jesus and his weeping:
Jesus wept: Jesus shared in the grief of those who mourn. Yet unlike any other, God the Son was able to do something about their grief. Jesus allowed this sympathetic passion to uniquely do for Lazarus what He will one day do for all the righteous dead.
Jesus wept: There are many aspects to these two words.
Jesus was truly a man.
There may be no sin or shame in tears.
Jesus was acquainted with grief.
Jesus was not ashamed of His humanity.
Jesus identified with others in their sorrow.
Jesus loves people.
“Jesus had humanity in its perfection, and humanity unadulterated is generous and sympathetic.” (Adam Clarke) “He suffered all the innocent infirmities of our nature.” (Charles Spurgeon)
Jesus dignified the tears of others in the Bible who wept, and all who weep.
Abraham wept when he buried Sarah.
Jacob wept when he wrestled the Angel.
David and Jonathan wept together.
Hezekiah wept over his sickness.
Josiah wept over the sin of his nation.
Jeremiah was the weeping prophet.
“Sometimes we are told that if we really believed that our friends would rise again, and that they are safe and happy even now, we could not weep. Why not? Jesus did. There cannot be any error in following where Jesus leads the way.” (Charles Spurgeon)
The mourners see His emotion and ask the question about Jesus: “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?” This question, although probably asked in all innocence, is not helpful to the situation. Was the expectation that Jesus would resurrect every dead person and heal every flawed or sick human He encountered? I like what Charles Spurgeon says about this, as quoted in Enduring Word - definitely food for thought, especially when we tend to treat our Lord as a marvelous vending machine of constant miracles and answered prayers. It’s worth keeping in mind, too, that some of these same mourners, not too long in the future, could be part of the crowd calling for His crucifixion:
“Suppose that Jesus is willing to open the eyes of the blind, and does open them; is he therefore bound to raise this particular dead man? If he does not see fit to do so, does that prove that he has not the power? If he lets Lazarus die, is it proven therefore that he could not have saved his life? May there not be some other reason? Does Omnipotence always exert its power? Does it ever exert all its power?” (Spurgeon)
Jesus likely healed thousands of people and cast out many demons and raised several people from the dead, but it is never enough for the naysayers like the Pharisees. Believers can take comfort in the fact that there may be physical challenges and illnesses in this life, but God works all things for good and gives us strength and we are destined for a beautiful eternity through our salvation.
Jesus tells them to take away the stone in front of the tomb. Martha reacts, saying that it has been four days and the deceased is likely decaying, causing a bad smell. Jesus tells her that if she will believe, she will see the the glory of God. They obey and take the stone away and Jesus lifts His eyes and prays to His Father:
“Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 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.”
Jesus calls out for Lazarus to come forth, in a loud voice. Lazarus emerges from the tomb, wrapped in his burial clothes. He will need them again in the future, as this is a resuscitation, not a bodily resurrection. His sisters help to remove the burial clothes to free their brother. Jesus, in just a few short days, will leave His burial garments in His tomb as He will no longer need them. Many who were there that day believed, but others raced to the Pharisees to report this event. The wheels are set in motion by the Pharisees, who convene the Sanhedrin to discuss the “Jesus matter” and now actively work towards His arrest and crucifixion.
Lazarus is seen again at a dinner with his sisters and with Jesus six days before Passover, perhaps held at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany (according to John 12). At this dinner, Mary anoints the feet of Jesus in an expensive perfume, earning an objection from Judas for the “waste” of that precious substance. Judas apparently begins his betrayal of Jesus at that point after Jesus admonishes him. The Jewish leadership also plotted to kill Lazarus, so he couldn’t tell his story. Charles Spurgeon says it best, from Enduring Word commentary for John Chapter 12:
“When men hate Christ, they also hate those whom he has blessed, and will go to any lengths in seeking to silence their testimony.” (Spurgeon)
It is not known what happened to Lazarus after this point, although there are various legends that he became a bishop in Cyprus, moving there with his sisters and dying of natural causes, or he became the bishop of Marseilles and was beheaded during the reign of Emperor Domitian (who despised Christians and sought their deaths everywhere). Gotquestions.org talks about these legends.
So what did we learn from this miracle?
Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead in Bethany: Jesus delays leaving His location after a request comes to Him to help Lazarus, who is dying. He arrives four days after Lazarus’ death to show His disciples the full glory of God. Jesus is deeply moved by the mourning of Mary and Martha and the others and weeps in His compassion for fallen humanity. He prays to the Father and summons Lazarus from the tomb, demonstrating that His powers have no time limit for resuscitating the dead. The wheels are set in motion by this event for His arrest and execution.
My next devotional examines a miracle documented in Matthew, Mark and Luke, where Jesus restores sight to Bartimaeus in Jericho.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Your powers are infinite and Your love is infinite. May I never doubt the wonders of your miracles and ministry as demonstrated so perfectly in the raising of Lazarus from the dead. This passage in John is so precious and dear to those who believe and know that You are the Resurrection and the Life. Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
Commentary from Enduring Word by David Guzik is used with written permission.
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