Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead and declares that he himself is the resurrection and the life. The chief priests and Pharisees plot to arrest and kill Jesus. It is the Passover season.
As I write in every introduction:
This translation and commentary are for everyone who needs an online reference, but the commentary is mainly for readers in developing and persecuting countries, where Christians cannot afford or do not have access to excellent printed Study Bibles or commentaries. The main goal is missional.
The translation is mine. I offer it only to learn what the Greek says. It tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so I had to make adjustments.
Readers can go to biblehub.com and use the interlinear link to look up every Greek word, and then the links go to every occurrence of the word. They can also visit biblegateway.com for many translations.
A GrowApp section is offered after every passage of Scripture, which asks challenging questions for deeper discipleship.
Links are provided for further study.
Jesus Delays Raising Lazarus from the Dead (John 11:1-16)
1 A certain man was sick, Lazarus from Bethany, from the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (Mary was she who anointed the Lord with myrrh and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother was Lazarus who was sick.) 3 The sisters sent for him, saying, “Lord, see the one whom you love is sick.” 4 But when Jesus heard, he said, “This sickness is not for death but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that he was sick, then he remained in the place where he was, for two days. 7 After this, he then said to the disciples, “Let us into Judea again.” 8 His disciples said to him, Rabbi, the Jews were once seeking you to stone you, and you want to go there?” 9 Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If someone walks around in the daytime, he does not trip because he sees the light to this world. 10 But if anyone walks around at night, he trips because the light is not in him.” 11 He said these things, and after this he said to them, “Lazarus our friend sleeps, but we go so that I may awaken him.” 12 So his disciples said to him, “If he has fallen asleep, he will get well.” 13 But Jesus had not spoken about his death, but they thought that he was talking about the natural sleep. 14 At this, Jesus spoke plainly to them. “Lazarus has died. 15 And I am glad for your sake that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 Then Thomas, called Didymos, one of the disciples said, “Let us also go, so that we may die with him.”
Since the verb believe and the noun faith are so important in John’s Gospel, I would like to plant word studies at the beginning of each chapter. Then you can scroll back up here to read what the terms mean. I keep repeating this word study in each chapter because I don’t have to worry about cost per printed page in online writing.
The verb believe (verb is pisteuō, pronounced pih-stew-oh) and the noun faith have to penetrate one’s whole being. Now let’s study them more formally. The noun faith is pistis (pronounced peace-teace or pis-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232).
A true acronym:
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
One has to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus. The bottom line is that for John’s Gospel believing and faith must not get stuck in an intellectual assent. “I believe that God exists and Jesus lived.” Instead, everyone who believes or has faith must put their complete trust in God’s Son.
Now let’s move on.
For another intimate view of this family, see Luke 10:38-42.
38 And while they were going along, he entered a particular village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and began listening to his message. 40 Martha was distracted by all the serving. She stood over him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to serve? So tell her to help me!” 41 The Lord replied and told her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled by many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Obviously, Mary has chosen the right part, which shall not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
John is saying to his audience that they had heard of a certain Mary, the one who anointed his feet and wiped them with her hair, and now John introduces them to her sister and brother Lazarus. John will tell this story in 12:1-7. So we have a “prolepsis” or “anticipation” of what is to come. John is setting up the entire chapter and 12:1-7 with these sixteen verses.
This is not the same Lazarus in the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31).
Bruce points out that an ossuary (bone box) inscribed with the names “Mary, Martha, Lazarus” was near Bethany, in 1873. He calls it a coincidence because the names are common (comments on vv. 3-5).
Also, in v. 1, John calls Mary “Maria” and then in v. 2 he calls her “Mariam” (Miriam). Evidently, John was not obsessed with giving her a Hebrew name, nor was John deliberately undermining the Jewish roots of earliest Jesus community. He switched back and forth between the two. The Hebrew Roots Movement is an American-Israeli concern among Messianic Jews. Personally I celebrate their efforts to reach out to the unconverted Jewish community, but I wish they would make it clearer that the movement is simply a way to reach out to Jews, and not some sort of ultra-pure interpretation of the Torah and the NT. These efforts are not a cheap knockoff of the Hasidim, the extra-sacred, and everyone else is not quite up to standards. The NT streamlines and eliminates the bits of the Torah that puts markers or cultural barriers between Jews and Gentiles.
I like how Bruce connects John’s explanatory aside in v. 2 to John’s Christian community: “The Evangelist [John], who records the incident later (John 12:3), had presumably told the story already (no doubt with other stories to be written down eventually in his Gospel) in the companies of Christians among whom he moved. So, on mentioning Lazarus for the first time, he says, in effect, ‘You will know whom I mean if I tell you that he was the brother of that Mary who anointed the Lord’” (comment on vv. 1-2). Bruce goes on to say that the story of anointing the feet of Jesus would not be soon forgotten but was memorable.
These verses also set the scene for the rest of the chapter and even 12:1-7. Of course the two sisters would send word to Jesus that his good friend and their brother is sick. John uses the verb phileō (pronounced fee-leh-oh), yet in v. 5 he uses the verb agapaō (pronounced ah-gah-pah-oh). Both mean “friendship-love.” This natural interchange of the two verbs indicates that they are virtual synonyms in John’s Gospel.
“Lord”: it may not mean anything more than “sir,” in some contexts, but here, since Martha makes such a profound confession of faith (v. 27), it is best to go with “Lord.”
Then Jesus introduces a little paradoxical theology. A paradox places together two seeming conflicting ideas, but somehow they belong together. Jesus said that Lazarus’s sickness is not for death, but then Lazarus actually dies (v. 14). Jesus is simply saying that Lazarus’s sickness does not lead to a permanent death, because he will be resurrected. Then God and the Son of God will receive more glory.
“Son of God”: Let’s look into some more systematic theology (as I do throughout this commentary). Jesus was the Son of the Father eternally, before creation. The Son has no beginning. He and the Father always were, together. The relationship is portrayed in this Father-Son way so we can understand who God is more clearly. Now he relates to us as his sons and daughters, though, surprisingly, in John’s Gospel we are not called “sons,” but “children.” Only Jesus is the Son. In any case, on our repentance and salvation and union with Christ, we are brought into his eternal family.
Now that we have opened up some systematic theology about the Son in relation to Father God, let’s discuss even a little more systematic theology: The Trinity. The Father in his role as the Father is over the Son; the Father guides the whole of creation and the plan of the ages. The Son carries out the plan, notably by being born as a man, humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant (Phil. 3:7-8). He humbled himself so deeply and thoroughly that he died a death on the cross, the instrument of the death penalty.
In that link, I exegete Phil. 2:6-8.
However, the Father and Son are equal in their essence or nature. The Father is fully God and the Son is fully God, in their essence. Phil. 2:6: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to hold on to, but he surrendered the environment of heaven and took the form of a servant. Look at it this way: a human father and son are equal in their essence. Both have a soul and spirit. But in their roles and family relationship, the Father is over the Son.
Function or role: the Father is over the Son
In their essence or essential natures: Father and Son are equal.
In v. 5 John needs to restate that Jesus loved the siblings because what he is about to do in v. 6 is startling. So when he had heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was, for two more days. Why the delay? This question has been answered in v. 4, the greater and more startling the miracle, the greater the glory. Mary and Martha will challenge Jesus and his delay (vv. 21 and 32). He will reinforce his purpose: he is the resurrection and the life. John’s readers must have recalled “for he himself knew what he was about to do” (John 6:6). It is time to trust when God does not arrive on your timetable. He has his own schedule.
Timing: Jesus crossed over the Jordan to where John had been baptizing in the early days (10:20). In 1:28, this location was probably Batanea, about 150 km northeast of Jerusalem. Lazarus was alive when Jesus heard of his illness (11:3-4). During the two-day delay, Lazarus died (11:11). When Jesus arrived outside Bethany, Lazarus had already been dead four days (11:17) (Mounce, comments on vv. 5-6). Carson adds that Jesus must have known of Lazarus’s death by supernatural means, en route (comment on vv. 5-6).
Why the delay? (1) Jesus wanted people to understand that Lazarus really was dead so they could witness of resurrection. (2) Jesus delayed because of the Jewish belief that a soul lingered three days wanting to get back into the body, so Jesus came on the fourth day to ensure that Jews would not believe it was a soul returning, but a true resuscitation. (3) Jesus journey to Jerusalem was self-determined. No one pinned him down, but he followed the Father’s will. He and no one else determined the right time (Mounce, comments on vv. 5-6). My take: I prefer the first and second explanations. I don’t believe Jesus gave in to Jewish popular belief.
Jesus announces that he is ready to go back to Judea, the province that houses Jerusalem and Bethany. The disciples, thinking naturalistically, warn him about the recent death threat by the Jewish Jerusalem establishment 10:31, 39-41).
“Rabbi”: at this stage, this means “teacher” and was not an official office, as it will become in the second century.
Jesus replies that he is walking and working in the daytime. He will not stumble; he himself is the light, both a spiritual and moral light. Evidently he believes that the Father is guiding his steps and now it is the right time to return to Bethany, near Jerusalem. The opposite is also true. People who walk in darkness—the religious establishment in the immediate context—will trip in the darkness because the light is not in them. So he shifts the source of light from sunlight of this world to the inner light. Those who walk in darkness do not have the light that shines in the soul.
Jesus will repeat this imagery here:
35 So Jesus told them, “For still a brief time the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. And the one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light.” (John 12:35-36)
And he already taught the light imagery in John 9:4-5:
4 We must work the works of the one who sent me while it is day; the night comes when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4-5)
Jesus plays with the ambiguity of language of sleeping and death. Lazarus, their friend, is only “sleeping.” Then he announces that they are going to wake him up. That’s a positive development, say the disciples, again thinking naturalistically, because he will be made well. In other words, it is easier to heal a sick and sleeping man than it is to raise him from the dead, as they see things.
John informs his readers that Jesus was actually referring to Lazarus’s death, but they were thinking of the “sleep of sleep” or natural sleep. Then at their deficient thinking, he told them plainly that Lazarus had died. “Sleeping” is used eighteen times in the NT and four of them are literal (Matt. 28:13; Luke 22:45; John 11:12; Acts 12:6. The other times it is a euphemism or circumlocution of dying or death. Anyone who has seen a dead body in the casket sometimes get the impression that he could go up to the deceased and wake him up. But then it hits you. There is no waking him up by natural means. So from a spiritual point of view, it is as if Lazarus is sleeping, but from a natural point of view he really was dead. Jesus is glad—rejoices—for their benefit that they were not there. Now they can see the glory of God because Jesus is about to awaken Lazarus by supernatural means.
The purpose is that the disciples may believe. Mounce is right: “Jesus was not speaking of the initial faith but of the growth and maturing of the faith of his followers. While faith begins with a first step of commitment to the Lord, in another sense it is a progressive relationship. Faith grows as experience continues to verify the trustworthiness of the one in whom we have placed our trust” (comment on vv. 12-13).
Will Martha have this kind of maturing faith and trust, after his delay? What about Mary? What about you when the Lord delays?
Finally, Thomas shows courage because he can sense trouble brewing in Jerusalem; this is it. No turning back. He is willing to die with Jesus. The Father controls the time of his Son’s death. Going to wake up Lazarus will provoke the plot to crucify the Lord, but Thomas may not realize that the Jewish establishment will also plot to kill Lazarus (12:9-11).
Experts in Aramaic tell us that t’ōmā means “twin.” In Greek the term is didymos (John 20:24; 21:2). Nicknames appeared often in the ancient world, Cephas (Kepha) Petros / Peter added to Simon.
I really like Borchert’s defense of Thomas’s courage:
That hopelessness of Thomas, however, was not the perspective of a coward. It was resignation in the face of the perceived possibility of death on his part. Thomas is not a flat, one-dimensional character in John. He appears as a real person with genuine personality characteristics. Here he recognized the imminent danger that was lurking in the south, but he was willing to follow and to die with Jesus (11:16). History, I believe, has treated Thomas rather superficially. Although he can be labeled as a doubter, I cannot help but ask, Who would cast the first stone in condemnation (cf. 8:7) of him? Surely one can sense that his realism also was linked with courage here. And one must never forget that Thomas offered the major confession of this Gospel following the resurrection (20:28). (comment on vv. 11-16)
GrowApp for John 11:1-16
A.. Has God ever seemed to delay in answering your prayers? How did you respond?
Jesus Is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:17-27)
17 Then when Jesus came, he found him already laid in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem about fifteen stadia. 19 Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.
20 Then Martha, when she heard that Jesus was coming, met him. But Mary sat in the house. 21 Then 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 God for, God will give it to you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one believing in me, even if he dies, will live, 26 and everyone living and believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I do believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
John establishes the scene in the first three verses. Lazarus was dead for four days and was in the tomb or literally “having” the tomb. Many of the Jews from the surrounding area came to show their sympathy for the two sisters. An historical tidbit first: A stadion (plural: stadia) was about 605 feet or 185m. So Bethany was about two miles or three kilometers from Jerusalem, on the road leading to Jericho (eastward).
Now let’s get not the deeper content, take the pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or unit or section as a whole, instead of verse by verse.
Wow. The title of this pericope is rightly titled after Jesus’s pronouncement in v. 25. However, it could also be titled: “Martha’s Strong Trust” or “Martha’s Deep Faith.” She went out to meet Jesus. She believed in Jesus’s healing power, so she told him that if he had come earlier, Lazarus would not have died because Jesus would have healed him. Then her deep faith is revealed with her words. He can ask God for whatever he wants, and God would grant it to him. Even now Martha has a glimmer of faith that God through Jesus could work a miracle.
In contrast, why did Mary sit in the house when Martha went out to meet him? Yes, it was a custom to sit in the house to mourn, but then why did Martha get up and meet him? So back to my speculation: Was she upset with him for delaying? If so, that is a natural human response. She will say the same thing that Martha did, falling at his feet (v. 32), though her faith is not shown in the text. Was her faith weaker than Martha’s? Yes, it looks like it.
What does the term Christ or Messiah mean? The term means the Anointed One. In Hebrew it is Messiah, and in Greek it is Christ. It means that the Father through the Spirit equipped Jesus with his special calling and the fulness of power to preach and minister to people, healing their diseases and expelling demons (though demon expulsion is not mentioned in John’s Gospel). The Messiah / Christ ushered in the kingdom of God by kingdom preaching and kingdom works.
After Martha’s profession of faith, he promises her that Lazarus will rise again. So we have an ambiguous future tense. Jesus means soon, and Martha believe it will happen at resurrection on the last day. So her faith which said that even now he can ask God for whatever he needs, God will answer, has now shifted to the resurrection on the last day.
Please see John 5:28-29.
John 5 (scroll down to vv. 28-29)
Now Jesus makes an important announcement, his revelation of who he is. This is the fifth of seven “I am” statements: I am door / gate. In Exod. 3:14, in the Septuagint (pronounced sep-too-ah-gent, a third to first century BC translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek), the Greek reads: “the LORD says, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’” (egō eimi, pronounced eh-goh-ay-mee) is used in the phrasing (along with ho ōn). This is high Christology.
JESUS’ SEVEN “I AM” SAYINGS IN JOHN
|1||I Am the Bread of Life (6:35, 48) and Living Bread (6:51)|
|2||I Am the Light of the World (8:12)|
|3||I Am the Gate (10:7, 9)|
|4||I Am the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14)|
|5||I Am the Resurrection and the Life (11:25)|
|6||I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6)|
|7||I am the True Vine (15:1, 5)|
|BTSB, p. 2163, slightly edited|
Or Jesus may refer to the “I am he” passages in Is. 40-55, as he did at John 8:24. Here is a list (all NIV and emphasis added):
Who has done this and carried it through,
calling forth the generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord—with the first of them
and with the last—I am he.” (Is. 41:4)
10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.
11 I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no savior.
12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.
13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he.
No one can deliver out of my hand.
When I act, who can reverse it?” (Is. 43:10-13, see v. 25)
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (Is. 46:4)
“Listen to me, Jacob,
Israel, whom I have called:
I am he;
I am the first and I am the last.
13 My own hand laid the foundations of the earth,
and my right hand spread out the heavens;
when I summon them,
they all stand up together. (Is. 48:12-13)
12 “I, even I, am he who comforts you.
Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
human beings who are but grass,
13 that you forget the Lord your Maker,
who stretches out the heavens
and who lays the foundations of the earth,
that you live in constant terror every day
because of the wrath of the oppressor,
who is bent on destruction? (Is. 51:12-13)
Whether Jesus is referring to these verses in the “I Am” statements or not, this is high Christology.
Mounce on this “I Am” statement: “We are nevertheless called on to see Jesus as possessing eternal life in such a way that to believe in him is to share with him the resurrected life of the new age. As Paul would put it, those who are ‘in Christ’ are one with him in the experience of a quality of life both divine and eternal (see, e.g., Ro 8:1; 1 Cor 15:22; 2Co 5:17; Eph 1:3)” (comment on vv. 25-26). He goes on to say that “living and believing” should be joined together as a unit so it could be translated as “living by faith.” (I add: “living by believing.”) When he believes in Jesus, we share in eternal life, which overcomes death. Carson: The first half of v. 26 “stipulates that the believer, the one who already enjoys resurrection life this side of death, will in some sense never die. … In anticipation of Jesus’ resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit, there is the repeated promise that those who believe in him will immediately possess eternal life. ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death (8:51; cf. 3:15, 16; 5:24). Ordinary mortal life ebbs away; the life that Jesus gives never ends. It is in that sense that whoever lives and believes in Jesus will never die” (comments on vv. 25-26).
Now let’s return to the interaction between the Lord and Martha. Jesus says that anyone who believes in him, though he dies, will live. Ambiguity. The believer will die to himself—pick up his cross and follow him—and when he dies a physical death, he will never die but always live because his soul / spirit will live on. The Greek literally reads: he will not—not!—die forever.
Jesus asks her the personal question. Do you believe this? She answers with her great statement of faith: She believes that he is the Christ / Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.
Simon Peter says: the Messiah (1:41)
Nathanael says: the Son of God (1:49)
Philip says: “the one Moses wrote about” (1:45; 1:27, 30)
Martha says: the Messiah and Son of God, the sent one.
Martha had the deeper and fuller faith than the men had (Bruce and Mounce, comment on v. 27).
The Christ and Messiah are synonyms, and both mean “Anointed One.” Christ is Greek, while Messiah is Hebrew. John calls him Christ here because of his Greek speaking readers, but he also says “Messiah” twice (1:42; 4:25).
Son of God seems to be equal to Messiah here, but in John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Logos made flesh and tabernacled among his own people, according to the Prologue (John 1:1-18). Jesus is the only begotten and unique Son of God. See v. 4 for more comments.
Recall that the “world,” kosmos (pronounced koss-moss) in Greek, could refer to the physical universe (17:5; 21:25). Or it could refer to humanity as a group. What we call humanity or humankind is, in John, the world. This is why God invades the kosmos. “The ‘world’ is the place or realm where God is at work, the place that is the main focus of God’s attention. God’s saving light invades the dark world. Jesus came to the dark world to save as many as those who believe in him and in his name. In sum, “it appears that the personification of the ‘world’ in John is the portrait of a class of people.” It is the dimension of a relational encounter between God and people (Klink, comment on 1:10, pp. 100-01).
Finally, Martha’s faith. It has to go more deeply than head or academic knowledge. It has to go into the heart and lead some to entrust herself entirely to the Lord. Bruce calls it a “settled attitude of soul” (comment on v. 27).
A little grammar for the advanced: Martha uses the perfect active indicative verb, which is usually translated as “I have believed” in the past and and up to the present time, even now. But professional grammarians teach me that the perfect tense in a context like this one is a “stative” perfect without any reference to a past point in time (Novakovic, p. 19). In other words, it expressers her present “state” (stative) of belief at the time she says those words. Bottom line: her faith was deep and current in her life right then.
“life”: this is more than mere existence. This is life of the next age, that age, which has broken into this age or right now. In other words, eternal life happens now, but we must be careful not to believe that everything in the new age, in everlasting life, is happening now. This is called over-realized eschatology (study of ends times and new ages). Not every new-age blessing becomes realized or accomplished right now. But let’s not remain negative. We get some benefits of the next age or new age right now. We get some benefits of eternal life, right now.
Let’s look at life by the book—by the prominent Greek lexicon.
It is the noun zoē (pronounced zoh-ay, and girls are named after it, e.g. Zoey). BDAG says that it has two senses, depending on the context: a physical life (e.g. life and breath) and a transcendent life. By physical life the editors mean the period from birth to death, human activity, a way or manner of living, a period of usefulness, earning a living. By transcendent life the lexicographers mean these four elements: first, God himself is life and offers us everlasting life. Second, Christ is life, who received life from God, and now we can receive life from Christ. Third, it is new life of holiness and righteousness and grace. God’s life filling us through Christ changes our behavior. Fourth, zoē means life in the age to come, or eschatological life. So our new life now will continue into the next age, which God fully and finally ushers in when Christ returns. We will never experience mere existence or death, but we will be fully and eternally alive in God.
Clearly, John means the fourth definition.
Now let’s apply our easy-to-understand, two-level diagram:
2.. What Does It or He Symbolize?
1.. Physical Object or Concept or Person
Now let’s fill it in:
2.. Jesus Is the Source and Giver of Eternal Life for All Who Trust in Him
1.. I am the Resurrection and the Life
Let’s unpack the second level. When Jesus said he was the Resurrection and the Life, he was signifying that he is the Source and Giver of eternal life. The moment the believer is born again, he passes from death to life. He experiences a resurrection of sorts. When he dies at the end of his earth-life, his body dies, but his spirit lives on. We have eternal life now, at our death, at the end of this earth-bound life, our graduation into heaven, and finally at our future bodily resurrection. Eternal life is a gift of God which his Son offers to anyone who wants it. It begins with his being born again, and it remains forever with the believer, on the condition that he remains in Christ.
GrowApp for John 11:17-27
A.. Describe Martha’s faith. What is your faith like? How can it grow more strongly?
Jesus Weeps (John 11:28-37)
28 When she said this, she departed and called Mary his sister and told her in private, “The teacher is here and calls for you.” 29 Then she, when she heard of it, got up quickly and came to him. 30 Jesus had not yet come into the village but was still in the place where Martha met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house comforting her, seeing Mary, that she quickly got up and left, followed her, thinking that she was going to the tomb, to weep there.
32 Then Mary, coming to where Jesus was, when she saw him, fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 Then Jesus, when he saw her weeping and the Jews who came with her weeping, he had a strong feeling of concern in spirit and was troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you placed him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus shed tears. 36 Then the Jews were saying, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not the man who opened the eyes of the blind man do something so that also this one would not have died?”
This pericope is so moving that I do not want to comment verse by verse. Let’s take it was a whole.
It is interesting that Jesus called for Mary to come out of her house and meet him where he was. Why? Did he want her to get out of herself and have faith in him? Was he healing her of her grief or even disappointment that led to anger? Or he may have wanted to separate her from all the grief and tears, but then he himself will weep (v. 35). We will never know for sure why he called her to himself, where Martha had met him.
The kind-hearted Jews who were comforting her followed along, because they misunderstood her intentions; Martha had told her privately that Jesus wanted to speak with her.
Once again, John refers to Mary by her Hebrew name Miriam, throughout this pericope. This will bring a thrill to the people of the Hebrew Roots Movement, who believe that Greek has distorted the message of the true gospel. But this was not John’s intention.
Mary fell at Jesus’s feet when she saw him and repeated what her sister said. If only Jesus had been there, Lazarus would not have died. Jesus would have healed him. But he does not proclaim his being the resurrection and the life to Mary, but he did to Martha. Does this mean that Mary did not have the same level of faith as her sister? Once again, we’ll ever know for sure.
When Jesus saw everyone—Mary and the Jewish comforters—weeping, he was “deeply disturbed” in spirit (Novakovic, p. 20), and professional lexicographers say that the verb has a nuance of indignation or even anger built into it (see Mark 1:43; 14:5; Matt. 9:30). The Shorter Lexicon suggests “groan.” He was disturbed in his spirit, not the Spirit. He felt moved. Then he shed tears. The Greek verb is different from that of Mary and the Jews weeping. The verb implies shedding tears. The Jews observe this and conclude that Jesus really did love Lazarus. Why was he weeping? As if he had no hope, just when he was going to resurrect Lazarus? No, that does not make sense. I like Mounce here: “Jesus wept because of the havoc wrought on the world by sin and death. To the one who came to bring life, death was a stark reminder of the continuing cosmic struggle between God and Satan for the souls of men and women. As long as death reigned, the kingdom of God was not yet finally and completely established” (comment on v. 35). Klink says that Jesus was “outraged” at sin and disbelief (comment on v. 33). Carson: “The one who always does what pleases his Father (8:29) is indignant when faced with attitudes that are not governed by the truths the Father has revealed. If sin, illness and death, all devastating features of this fallen world, excite his wrath, it is hard to see how unbelief is excluded. But the world that is at enmity with God is also the object of God’s love … so it is not surprising that when he is shown the tomb where the body lay, Jesus wept.” (comment on vv. 33-35)
Borchert on why Jesus showed anger and wept:
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. (comment on vv. 33b-37)
However, some of the Jewish mourners challenged him, saying that he should have come earlier so that the one who opened the eyes of the blind man could have prevented Lazarus from dying, by healing him. However, they themselves are blind to Jesus being the resurrection and the life. They’re the ones who need their eyes opened. Recall that irony means that a person thinks he is very wise and knowledgeable, but he does not know as much as he thinks he does. Job and his comforters knew some things about God and uttered beautiful poetry, but when God showed up, he gave them a deeper revelation of who he is; their minds could not handle it. They did not know as much as they had first believed. They repented. And so it was with Jesus’s critics. It’s best not to criticize about such matters, because they did not know as much as they thought. He is about to raise Lazarus from the dead.
GrowApp for John 11:28-37
A.. Jesus shed tears for Lazarus. You have shed tears for the deceased. Study 1 Thess. 4:13-14. How should we grieve for the deceased?
Lazarus Resuscitated to Life (John 11:38-44)
38 So Jesus again had a strong feeling of concern in himself and came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay on it. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone!” The sister of the deceased man, Martha, said, “Lord, he already smells, for it has been four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 And I have known that you always hear me, but I said this because of the crowd standing around, so that they may believe that you have sent me.” 43 After he said these things, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The deceased man came out, though his feet and hands had been bound with strips of cloth, and his face was wrapped with a face-cloth. Jesus said, “Unbind him, and allow him to go.”
Here is a table of the signs, but John also clarifies in various places that Jesus performed many other signs. So now we see that John’s narrative is highly stylized and edited, to suit his purpose.
THE EIGHT SIGNS OF JOHN’S GOSPEL
|1||Turning water into wine||2:1-11, the “beginning” or “first” sign|
|2||Healing an official’s son||4:43-54 “the second sign”|
|3||Healing a disabled man at a pool||5:1-15; see 6:2, where many healings are summarized|
|4||Feeding 5000||6:1-14 (see 6:14 and 6:26)|
|5||Walking on water||6:16-21|
|6||Healing a man born blind||9:1-12 (see 9:16 and “such signs”)|
|7||Raising Lazarus from dead||11:1-44 (see “signs” in 11:47 and “this sign” in 12:18)|
|8||Rising from the dead||20:1-31 (see many other signs in 20:30)|
|Source: BTSB, p. 2141, slightly edited|
And here is the purpose of the signs, without a complicated commentary:
30 So then Jesus performed many other signs in front of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 These were written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
The signs are for us to believe that he is the Messiah (or Christ), the Son of God. They are signposts, which point to Jesus and his glory. Evidently, Messiahship and Sonship are interchangeable here.
See vv. 3-6 for more comments on Jesus’s Sonship.
Once again, this pericope function so coherently as a unit that I do not wish to break it up in a verse-by-verse exposition. Let’s interpret it as a unit.
This is a resuscitation, not a resurrection in the sense that Jesus was resurrected. His resurrection renewed and transformed his body, so that it would never die. Lazarus’s body was restored to life, but not renewed or transformed so that it would never die. He did die.
As before, Jesus is troubled or groaning or feeling deeply concerned inwardly, with perhaps a slight touch of anger (same verb as in v. 33). Why possibly anger? It is not clear but he may be angry at how sickness and death take down people, and the kingdom of God in its quiet advance, after he inaugurated it, can only do so much. People, with their current bodies, cannot be perpetually resuscitated, so that they live for five hundred years in their present bodies. They have to get a new and transformed body.
He reminds Martha of her profound and real faith, because she went back to her natural way of thinking. Lord, he will have the odor or stench of decomposition. He immediately forgot that he was the resurrection and the life.
Then he commands something practical. Let’s not skip over it. He did not perform the miracle of levitating the stone. “Stone, arise!” Instead, he ordered the men to take it away from the opening. Jesus’s miracles were designed to help people in their need, not show off with unredemptive miracles.
In any case, he prays a great prayer of faith. He knows the Father hears him. In fact, the Father has been guiding him behind the scenes, from what we know of their tight relationship. He is so confident in his Father’s guidance that he thanks the Father that he hears his Son. Often when we pray, do we thank the Lord for his hearing us and seeing our need before we ask?
The larger purpose of this resuscitation is not only to help Lazarus, but to boost the faith of the crowd so that they may believe that the Father sent him.
I really like the way Jesus shouted with a loud voice. This expresses such confidence. If you have ever seen healing ministry up close and personal, done by people whom were not fund-raisers or showboats (I mean real healing), then you know how scary it can be. What if God does not break through and heal after the “human healer” shouts with a loud voice? So typically, those who pray for healing do so without the shouting. However, they also may pray in front of people, so the step of faith is also scary. Therefore, the mature man or woman who prays for healing will say something like, “I don’t heal. God does. So let’s do this together and see what the Father does.” Very wise. However, with a crowd watching and with total confidence that he was doing the Father’s will, he shouted out the command for Lazarus to out of the cave-tomb. And he came out!
Finally, I would like to point out that many people were walled up in tombs after they died. They were probably buried near Lazarus. Jesus did not raise them up. However, I like this promise: “Do not be amazed at this because the hour is coming when those in their tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out” …. (John 5:28-29). At that time, on the last day, everyone’s body will be transformed and no one will ever get sick again and die.
Professional grammarians will not like my concessive conjunction “though,” which I believe is implied in the participle, in this context. He came out, though his feet and hands had been bound and his head wrapped. However, if you do not like my “though,” take it out and see how others translations render it.
Carson reminds us that Lazarus was wrapped at the ankles, so it was possible for him to shuffle or hop, but scarcely walk. When Jesus commanded him to come out, Lazarus did exactly that (comment on vv. 43-44).
“face-cloth”: it was used for the face to wipe perspiration (BDAG). It was a sweat cloth. It comes from the Latin sudarium, which in Greek here is soudarion (a loan word), Jesus will also have a face-cloth on him at his burial (20:7).
GrowApp for John 11:38-44
A.. Please study Matt. 6:8. Do you believe God hears your prayer and knows what you need even before you ask? How does this build your faith?
B.. Lazarus had help to remove his grave clothes. Have you received help in having your old dead works and trespasses and sins removed?
The Plot to Kill Jesus (John 11:45-57)
45 Then many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what he did believed in him. 46 But some of them left for the Pharisees and told them what Jesus did.
47 So the chief priests and Pharisees assembled the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do because this man does many signs? 48 If we let him go on in this manner, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy us and this place and the nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, was the high priest that year, and he told them, “You know nothing! 50 Nor do you consider that is advantageous for you that one man should die for the people and not the entire nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this on his own, but since he was the high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only but so that the children of God who were scattered might gather into one. 53 So from that day on, they planned to kill him.
54 So Jesus no longer walked around in public in Judea but departed from there for the country near the desert to a town called Ephraim and stayed there with the disciples.
55 The Feast of Passover of the Jews was near, and many people went up to Jerusalem from the countryside before the Passover in order to purify themselves. 56 Then they were looking for Jesus and were saying between them, standing in the temple, “What do you think? That he may not come to the Feast at all?”
57 The chief priests and Pharisees gave an order that if anyone knew where he was should inform them, so that they might arrest him.
Now we can interpret this pericope section by section.
So the crowd divides in two. Many believed in him, and we don’t know how deep their faith went, but it seems to be deep. Recall that thousands of Jews believed in Jesus after Pentecost (Acts 2:41; 44; 6:7 [large number of priests]; 20:21). No doubt Jesus ministry prepared the way for their conversion.
The chief priests:
Please see this link for a short write up about each one:
They belonged to the highest court and council in Judaism, but as we will learn, they can declare a man guilty of the death penalty, but they cannot execute him without the Romans giving their permission.
They were concerned about the Romans. They may misinterpret the purpose of Jesus and claim he was a political revolutionary, with their backing. Then to punish them, the Romans would sack their city and destroy “this place,” meaning both Jerusalem and the temple. As it happened, the Romans did conquer the city and destroyed the temple in A.D. 70 (Matt. 21:33-45; 24:2; Luke 19:41-45; 21:20-24; 23:26-31). So his prophecy proved only partly or temporarily true.
Often God will speak through unexpected people. He prophesied through this high priest. Please see this post for a list of people through whom God spoke or communicated.
Caiaphas spoke the words of utilitarianism: the greatest good for the greatest number. One man dying instead of the entire nation (or the priestly aristocracy and the other religious leaders) being destroyed? No contest! One man!
In his explanatory aside, John sees in Caiaphas’ prophecy the substitutionary atonement. That is, Jesus’s death takes our place or stands in for us or substitutes for us.
There are other theories on the atonement, and each has its place, but the one about Christ being our substitute is essential to our salvation. The entire Day of Atonement ritual shows that the animal dies in place of the high priest.
Some professional theologians may use these verses to support their limited atonement—Christ died only for the elect, not for all people. But this verse is out of bounds for the limited atonement doctrine.
It is never a good idea to “limit” his atonement by indirect reasoning.
Example: (a) people can never resist his grace for salvation; (b) not all people are saved; (c) therefore his grace for salvation is not offered to everyone; and (d) therefore his salvation done on the cross (atonement) is limited to the elect or those who were called by grace; (e) and therefore, finally, the atonement is limited to the elect. Convoluted and indirect.
It is better to look directly at verses covering Christ’s atoning death on the cross—and he died for all. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2, NIV, emphasis added). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding off his blood—to be received by faith (Rom. 3:23-25, NIV, emphasis added). This redemption and atonement is received by faith. Therefore, the door is open to anyone and everyone—all—who have faith to receive his grace, which leads to redemption and the atonement being applied to anyone and everyone—all—who have faith! The initiative begins with God, and our faith responds to his freely offered grace—offered to anyone and everyone—all. His grace is efficacious or effective to the everyone who believes or has faith, and Christ’s sacrifice of atonement is received by faith.
As I read things, the call of the gospel potentially goes to all, but some won’t respond in faith, but many will. Grace is resistible because God has generously granted humans a significant measure of free will to say no to God, but not enough to strut into God’s kingdom and salvation, without being invited by God.
Yes, those who were scattered refers to Gentiles, which Jesus called “other sheep” that would hear his voice and follow him (10:16-17). Everyone who hears the gospel and responds by faith in the Son of God can be saved, whether Jew or Gentile.
Klink: The work of Jesus is universal and, as denoted by the purpose clause, is intended to ‘gather together’ … all God’s children, both Jew and gentile, into one body, the church. This is, then the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16), and Jesus will be their eternal high priest” (comment on v. 52).
In v. 53, the Passover plot has been hatched (Borchert, comment on v. 53)
Jesus left Jerusalem because he sensed it was not his Father’s time. He had to wait for Passover. This verse reminds me of these: “Then they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and left the temple” (John 8:59). “Then they were attempting to arrest him, but he departed out of their hands. Then he departed again beyond the Jordan River to the place where John was baptizing the first time and stayed there.” (John 10:39-40). It is okay to leave persecution.
A city called Ephraim was near Bethel and was probably called “Ephron” in 2 Chron. 13:19 (Bruce, comments on v. 54). Nowadays you can look it up on google maps of the Bible. My website is not set up for creating maps.
Let’s discuss the Passover.
Passover comes from the noun pascha (pronounced pah-skha, for the -ch- is hard). This is one of three festivals required by law (Tabernacles or Booths and Pentecost are the other two). Let’s define Passover. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT. It says: (1) An annual Israelite festival commemorating Israel’s exodus from Egypt, the Passover, celebrated on the 14th of the month Nisan and continuing into the early hours of the 15th … Ex 12-13 … This was followed immediately by the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the 15th to 21st. Popular usage merged the two festivals and treated them as a unity, as they were for practical purposes (see Lk 22:1 and Mk 14:12)”…. (2) “the lamb sacrificed for observance of the Passover, Passover lamb …figurative of Christ and his bloody death 1 Cor. 5:7 … eat the Passover Mt 26:17; Mk 14:12b, 14; Lk 22:11, 15; J 18:28.” (3) “The Passover meal Mt 26:19; Mk 14:16; Lk 22:8” …. (4) “in later Christian usage the Easter festival.”
The key points in that definition: popular usage merged Passover and Unleavened Bread for practical reasons; the Greek can be translated as the lamb itself, so the figurative usage is easy to apply to Christ’s sacrifice (1 Cor. 5:7). (To this day, modern Greeks celebrate the pascha by eating a lamb.) The latter usage of the term “Easter” is the church’s choice to take over a pagan festival. You can certainly skip the term if it bothers your conscience and biblical values.
Here are the basic facts about the two festivals:
Time of year in OT: First Month: Aviv / Nisan 14th day (for one day)
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: March / April (second Passover is one month later according to Num. 9:10-11)
How to celebrate it:
(1) A whole lamb by the number of people in household, being ready to share with nearest neighbor; (2) one-year-old males without defects, taken from sheep and goats; (3) take care of them until the fourteenth day; (4) then all the community is to slaughter it at twilight; (5) put the blood on the tops and sides of the doorframes of the houses where the lambs are eaten, with bitter herbs and bread without yeast; (6) that night eat the lambs roasted over fire, with the head, legs and internal organs, not raw or boiled (7) do not leave any of it until morning; if there is any leftover, burn it; (8) the cloak must be tucked into belt; sandals on feet and staff in hand; (9) eat in haste in order to leave Egypt soon (Exod. 12:4-11).
Purpose: Exodus from Egypt and Protection from Judgment:
“The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exod. 12:13).
Other Scriptures: Exod. 12:4-14; Num. 28:16
(2).. Unleavened Bread
Time of Year in OT: Same month, 15th to 21st days, for seven days
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: Same month, on the fifteenth day, which lasts for seven days
How to celebrate it:
Exod. 12:14-20 says that the Israelites were to eat bread without yeast for seven days, from the fourteenth day to the twenty-first day. On the first day they were to remove the yeast from their houses. If they eat anything with yeast from the first to the seventh days they shall be cut off (excommunicated), and this was true for foreigner or native-born. They must not do work on those days, except to prepare to prepare the food for everyone to eat. On the first days they are to hold a sacred assembly (meet at the tabernacle) and another one on the seventh day.
Other Scriptures: Exod. 12:14-20; Num. 28:16
Purpose: see the previous section “Passover.”
Paul writes in 1 Cor. 5:6-8:
Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:6-8)
The ancient Israelites were not supposed to eat leavened bread during this time. They were in such a hurry to leave Egypt that they could not wait for the yeast to raise the lump of dough. In this context yeast symbolized sin and hindrance. We are to keep the Passover, but only in a spiritual sense: “with sincerity and faith.” We are to get rid of the old yeast or moral corruption in our lives and the life of the church. Christ is our Passover lamb, and he protects us from God judicial wrath or judgment, when we are in union with him.
As we saw in vv. 1-2 and 1 Cor. 5:6-8, Jesus is our Passover lamb. And so, John draws the comparison between Jesus and the Passover lamb (John 1:29). His blood smeared on the door of your heart protects you from God’s judgment at the final judgment. However, please be aware that God is judging / evaluating you every minute of every day. Sometimes he likes what he sees, and at other times he tells you that you need an attitude adjustment.
See Heb. 12: 5-11, which talks about the discipline of the Lord out of his love. And 1 Peter 4:17 says that judgment begins with the household of God—now, here on earth.
The purification for the Passover is laid down in Num. 9:6-12:
6 But some of them could not celebrate the Passover on that day because they were ceremonially unclean on account of a dead body. So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day 7 and said to Moses, “We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the Lord’s offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?”
8 Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”
9 Then the Lord said to Moses, 10 “Tell the Israelites: ‘When any of you or your descendants are unclean because of a dead body or are away on a journey, they are still to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, 11 but they are to do it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations. (Num 9:6-12, NIV)
And in this passage:
17 Since many in the crowd had not consecrated themselves, the Levites had to kill the Passover lambs for all those who were not ceremonially clean and could not consecrate their lambs to the Lord. 18 Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone 19 who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” 20 And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people. (2 Chron. 30:17-20, NIV)
Bruce says that the Jewish historian Josephus confirms that Jews went to Jerusalem a week or so earlier to purify themselves (comment on v. 55). He also says that this is the third Passover, which he places around A.D. 30. John 2:20 says the first Passover for Jesus in his adult ministry was forty-six years after Herod began rebuilding the temple. The second Passover is recorded in John 6:4, but he did not attend that one.
The city was all abuzz with the prospect that Jesus would again appear during Passover. He will in fact make his triumphal entry in John 12:12-19.
Finally, Bruce points out that the order to arrest him was issued to the Jerusalem populace, but maybe they did not know of the plot to execute him or at least sentence him to death.
GrowApp for John 11:45-57
A.. Jesus left Jerusalem to flee persecution. Have you ever had to leave behind your old life when it almost destroyed you?
Beasley-Murray George R. John. Word Biblical Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 1999.
Borchert, Gerald L. John 1-11. New American Commentary. Vol. 25a. Broadman and Holman, 1996.
Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Eerdmans, 1983.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 1991.
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Baker Academic, 2003.
Novakovic, Lidija. John 11-21: A Handbook on the Greek Text. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor UP, 2020.
Klink, Edward W. John. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2016.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to John. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1995.
Mounce, Robert H. John. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.