Journey Through John – Chapter 11

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is 1 Peter 5:7. It reads, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” I like it because it tells us that God is concerned about us. Our problems, no matter how large or how small do not go unnoticed by God’s sovereign hand. It gives me comfort. It gives me hope.

All of us have different problems. Some things that really bother one person may not be a concern for another. Some people seem to sail through life trial-free, while others seem to always draw the short straw. Difficulties come in a rainbow of colors with great variance in severity.

However, there is one problem that we all face. It is our biggest problem. Death. 1 Cor. 15:26 describes death as our enemy – An enemy defeated by Christ.

“The victorious Christ is the greatest disruption, the striking off of shackles from a fettered world. He liberates us from the cruel facts of our existence in this present world. He is the end of death itself.” – Joshua John Mackin. “Death, Our Enemy”. 

John 11 gives us a picture of Jesus’ power over the enemy of death.

The Death of Lazarus

11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he 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. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” 

  • The first 16 verses in the chapter provide us with both the setting and  the reason for Jesus’ delayed response.
  • “Bethany” – means “house of suffering”. Countless people have suffered in and because of death. Death is suffering. Yet Jesus demonstrates his power over death in  the “house of suffering”.
  • For the sisters, Martha is characterized as a worker…Mary is characterized as the worshipful one.
  • “who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair” – see Matt. 26:6-13; John 12:1-8. Evidently this event had a great impact on the early church. So much so, it defined Mary.
  • In verse 4, we see a glimpse into the omniscience and omnipotence of Jesus. Ironically, what Jesus states will not happen (death) actually becomes the reason for his delayed response (14).
  • “Now Jesus loved…” – What a comfort! John probably adds this note to emphasize that Jesus’ delayed response was not because of a lack of concern, but it was to actually reveal his power over death. APP: Jesus’ lack of a response to our plea does not mean he does not love. Perhaps he is doing something greater in our lives.
  • Verse 9-10 contain a sermonette as Jesus responds to the disciples warning of danger in Judea (Bethany was about 1.75 miles from Jerusalem). His point: Jesus (the light) will keep them safe, there is no need to hide.
  • Verse 16, “But when Jesus told them it was time to go, Thomas (the human realist) voiced for all the disciples the sense of hopelessness they felt in the projected journey. Even though the Lord of life had been their companion, they did not understand that reality. They could only think about their dreadful circumstances. As with many people today, human problems crowd out the sense of the divine presence, and as a result hopelessness can reign even in the company of God’s people. – Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 353.

I Am the Resurrection and the Life

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from 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. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” 

  • “four days” – “This notation was extremely important to those familiar with Jewish burial customs. The general belief was that the spirit of the deceased hovered around the body for three days in anticipation of some possible means of reentry into the body. But on the third day it was believed that the body lost its color and the spirit was locked out. Therefore the spirit was obliged to enter the chambers of Sheol (the place of the dead). The passing of the third day, therefore, signaled the conclusion of the last modicum of hope for the mourners.” – Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 354.
  • “Lord, if you had been here” – not a reprimand of Jesus’ late arrival, but the words of one who is coming to grips with the finality of death. The hope for an intervention by Jesus has passed.
  • In verse 23-24, Jesus offers words of hope – “Your brother will rise again.” If his words were properly understood, they would’ve been shocking. Martha assumes that Jesus is making a reference to the future resurrection of the last days.
  • Verse 25, eternal life and our resurrection all flow from the power of Christ. The resurrection isn’t a doctrine of future events, but a present reality in Jesus.
  • Verse 26, “Do you believe this?” A crucial question, not just for Martha, but for us.

Jesus Weeps

28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” 

  • “in private” – perhaps to conceal Jesus’ presence in hostile territory.
  • Verse 32, Evidently the sisters spoke about the hope of a healing for their brother if Jesus could arrive in time. Compare to Martha’s comment in v. 21.
  • Verse 33, “deeply moved in spirit and greatly troubled” – “(to snort with anger); to be moved with anger” Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).
  • “the reaction of Jesus to that kind of wailing by the mourners was hardly empathetic support. The result was that Jesus became “disgusted” or “angered” (the Greek is embrimasthai) in his spirit and “perturbed” (tarassein) by the actions of the people (11:33). While psychoanalyzing Jesus is impossible from a report about Jesus, a statement needs to be made here about the meaning of v. 33. In contrast to German translations of this sentence, Beasley-Murray has argued convincingly that English polite translations (Including the NIV’s “he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled”) have failed to give sufficient negative impact to the Greek words in the sentence.328 The sense conveyed by most english versions is that Jesus was troubled along with the Jews over the death of Lazarus because he loved Lazarus (11:36). But that statement was made by the mourners, not Jesus. Clearly Jesus did not like death. Death, like sin, was an enemy for him, as it was for Paul (cf. 1 Cor 15:26, 54–57). His problem in this story, however, was not death. It was the mourners. Jesus was not a helpless human in the face of death. The story has a much different focus. Martha had been full of words, and here Mary and her supporters were full of tears and wailing. But for all of them Jesus was an unrecognized power in their midst.Therefore Jesus asked for the tomb. It was then that Jesus wept (11:35). John carefully used a different word (dakryein) for Jesus’ tears, a word that is not used elsewhere in the New Testament. It was almost as though the evangelist wanted to send a signal to his readers not to misinterpret Jesus’ weeping. It is, I would argue, precisely what the Jews here did. They interpreted his weeping as the loss of one “he loved” (11:36). They also questioned why the wonder-worker could not “have kept this man from dying” (11:37; italics added). After all, he had already opened the eyes of a blind man (cf. 9:6–11). But the time for miracles had by their reckoning already passed. Clearly, it had been four days since the death of Lazarus, and for them the situation was closed.Yet in interpreting this text it is important for us not to rely on what other people have said about Jesus. Their evaluations may be skewed. Of course Jesus loved Lazarus, but I doubt that that was the basic reason Jesus wept. Of course Lazarus had been dead four days, but I doubt that death was the main reason Jesus wept. The evangelist had made it clear from the very beginning of this story that the illness of Lazarus would “not end in death” but would bring glory to God and to the Son of God (11:4).

    Then what about Jesus’ weeping? The other places in the Gospels where such a depth of Jesus’ emotions were expressed are specifically places related to his mission: the places where he groaned over the failure of Jerusalem to come to him (cf. Matt 23:37–39; Luke 13:34–35), where he prayed for his disciples’ safety and future (cf. John 17:9–26), and where he wrestled with his death and the disciples’ weaknesses (cf. Matt 26:37–41; Mark 13:33–37; Luke 22:40–46; John 12:27–28). Accordingly, I would maintain that Jesus’ weeping here is directly related to the failure of his followers to recognize his mission as the agent of God. God’s Son was in their midst. They really missed the point. That fact becomes more evident in the next two segments of the story. Gerald L. Borchert, John 1–11, vol. 25A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 359–360.

Jesus Raises Lazarus

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” 

  • Notice the emphasis on the finality of death in 38-39. The tomb was sealed, there would be an odor, he’s been dead 4 days.
  • “deeply moved again” – same word as above
  • “that they may believe” – an emphasis through out this chapter. v. 25-27.
  • “Lazarus, come out.” – A command.
  • v. 44 literally – “came out the dead man”
  • QUES: What is significant in the fact that Jesus issued a command? Compare this interaction with Eph. 2.1-5
  • QUES: What do we learn from the fact that Lazarus was bound, and Jesus’ first order was to unbind him?

The Plot to Kill Jesus

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. 54 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples. 55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. 

  • Verse 48 shows us the heart of the religious leadership and their refusal to believe. They loved power and their country. Jesus could cause too much political unrest, he could threaten their peace with the Roman Empire.