The Raising Of Lazarus


‘Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So, the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’ John 11:1-3

This is the seventh miraculous sign, and Lazarus’ death is permitted for the same reason as the blindness, John 9:3. Time and again we see how Jesus’ miracles back up the claims that He makes, no wonder He so often referred to His critics of the work, that He was doing.

He claims He can give men new spiritual life, what greater evidence and assurance than Lazarus’ return from the dead after 4 days in the grave? Neither the disciples nor the two sisters could understand Jesus’ behaviour, but the result for all of them was renewed trust in Him, John 11:15 / John 11:27 / John 11:42. The event is decisive, for faith and life, on one hand, John 11:45 for hatred and death on the other, John 11:53.

Jesus was now out of Judea on the other side of the Jordan and He heard that his friend Lazarus was ill. Lazarus lived in Bethany, a small village about 2 miles East of Jerusalem. As John, the Apostle wrote this account after the fact, he referred to a story not yet written to identify Mary. The complete story of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet is given in John 12:1-8.

As many Marys are named in the various accounts of Jesus’ life, it’s important that they be identified. Lazarus might well have been deteriorating on a daily basis, and the message Jesus receives from the sisters has an urgent ring to it.

The Greek has the word ‘idle’ in the third verse, suggesting urgency, this can be translated as ‘see’, ‘listen’ or ‘behold’. The N.I.V. ignores this word.

‘When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.’ John 11:4-6

Here we see Jesus making a bold declaration, ‘This sickness will not end in death’, He had already made up His mind about what to do about Lazarus. He doesn’t mean that Lazarus will not die, but that the final result of this illness will not be death.

He predicts that the result will be the glorification of the Son. Although Jesus loved the sisters, He didn’t depart immediately for Bethany, He needed to wait to ensure that Lazarus was dead and buried before He arrived. Lazarus must have already been dead when Jesus received the message that he was sick, in fact, he must have died soon after the messenger left Bethany.

One day’s travel from Bethany to Jerusalem two days Jesus delayed, and one day to journey from Jerusalem to Bethany add up to the four days mentioned in John 11:17-19. Two more days, there was a belief among the Jews that the spirit remained with the body for three days after death.

Perhaps this is why Jesus delays, allowing Lazarus to be dead for four days before raising him, and so leaving no room for doubt. Jesus could have healed Lazarus immediately but allowed him to die, in John 11:14-15, we are given the reason, ‘so that you might believe’.

‘And then he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go back to Judea. But Rabbi,’ they said, ‘a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.’ John 11:7-10

Here wee that Jesus decides to return to Judea to see the sisters and Lazarus. As people, had tried to kill Him there, the disciples are reluctant to agree to the trip, but Jesus doesn’t let this very real fear and danger affect His decision. The words spoken in verses 9-10 by the Christ, reveal His feelings about the time left to do His work.

He is eager to make the best of the time available and He encourages the men not to depend on physical light but the spiritual light available in Him. Jesus assures the man that a good strong walk in the light will not lead to falling, but the arrival of all who walk at the heavenly destination.

‘After he had said this, he went on to tell them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.’ His disciples replied, ‘Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.’ Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. So, then he told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him. On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem.’ John 11:11-16

Following on we see Jesus trying to tell the disciples that Lazarus is dead without alarming them. However, on hearing that he is ‘asleep’, they conclude that it is the best thing for the sick man. The term ‘asleep’ became quite popular as Jesus said that they were going to ‘wake him up’, it ought to have been clear what the Lord was considering but it wasn’t.

To ensure the disciples understood, Jesus had to tell them in plain language. He also points out that if He had been present at the time of death, He would have prevented death and healed the man. In this case, He has the opportunity to perform a far more convincing miracle, raising the dead.

Thomas was the spokesman and called all the disciples to join on the trip to Judea. Peter normally plays this role, and it may indicate that Peter isn’t present. This may explain why the raising of Lazarus doesn’t appear in the other three Gospels if Peter dictated what he says to Mark who was helpful in writing the other Gospels.

‘That we may die with him,’ the words spoken by Thomas, could refer to one of two things.

1. Die with Lazarus, and indication that they would mourn his death together with the sister or

2. Die with Jesus, often people have grand ideas. In this case, he referred to the possible death of Jesus as He moves into an area where the people would like him dead. As they are disciples of Jesus, Thomas suggests they die fighting on his side. When the crunch came, they were too frightened to support Christ and ran.

I believe the second option to be true.

A burial frequently took place on the day of death, Acts 6:6-10. As Jesus knew, Lazarus was dead, He had been placed in the tomb four days before, after being dressed with herbs and so-forth as the current day tradition demanded. Lazarus was good and dead. 2 miles is literally 15 stadia, a stadium is approximately an eighth of a mile.

‘And many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.’ John 11:19

Here we see many people had come to mourn and comfort so quite a crowd was present but before Jesus arrives at the village, Martha one of the sisters goes out and meets Him. Mary the other sister may have been too overcome with grief to even be told of Jesus’ imminent arrival.

Resurrection was a subject not normally taught in Jewish teaching as most didn’t even accept the possibility, many never even considered it. Jesus mentions it here for the first time. We draw our doctrine of the resurrection from the resurrection of Jesus. Obviously, Jesus hadn’t yet been resurrected, so little was known on the subject, it was somewhat hazy.

‘When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. ‘Lord,’ Martha said to Jesus, ‘if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask. Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ John 11:22-24

And so, Jesus’ statement in verse 23 and Martha’s in the next verses are quite remarkable. Martha has no doubt that had Jesus been there before Lazarus had died, he would still be alive. She speaks half with reproach but also, she notes that nothing is impossible for Jesus, a hint at her faith in Jesus’ ability to bring him back. But also, perhaps like the ‘royal official’, John 4, she believed that Jesus would have to actually be present for Him to have saved Lazarus.

The messenger had brought back reassuring words, ‘this will not end in death’, her mind is struggling against sorrow and disappointment, she knew that Jesus could raise the dead, yet the doubts of despair reign strong.

John 11:23 could be seen by some as a normal term of conventional condolence but Jesus wasn’t being conventional, He was stating a fact. Was He referring to what He was about to do or was he referring to the future general resurrection on the last day? John 5:28-29 / Acts 23:8.

Martha agrees that he will live again after the last day but appears hopeful that she will see him alive again before the general resurrection.

‘Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this? Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’ After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. ‘The Teacher is here,’ she said, ‘and is asking for you.’ When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village but was still at the place where Martha had met him.’ John 11:25-30

We see here Jesus make the fifth of seven, ‘I AM’ statements. Jesus guarantees life for those who believe in Him. This is an absolute statement, one we can rest on without fear, He promises life as a result of this superficial physical death we need to enter. Note He doesn’t say He will give the resurrection and the life, He says ‘HE IS’ the resurrection and the life.

Jesus then specifically asks if she is in agreement with his statement and she is, and more, she declares her conviction that He is the promised Messiah. John 6:6-9. This series of statements by Martha is one of the few speeches of great doctrinal note ever given by a woman and ensures Martha a place in the book of great faithful women.

Jesus then asks for Mary the other sister, Martha quickly goes and fetches her and brings her to the place where Jesus was waiting outside the village.

‘When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.’ John 11:31

This notes how Mary got up quickly to greet Jesus. It appears as if she also had some hope restored on hearing Jesus’ name. All the Jews with her in the house follow her to Jesus.

‘When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ John 11:32-37

Here we see that when Mary arrives at Jesus’ feet she falls to His feet in respect and worship. Again, faith in Jesus is displayed by Mary acknowledging His ability to prevent Lazarus’s death. Jesus saw the emotion of the people, especially the two sisters and felt for them.

However, He doesn’t relieve their pain by restoring Lazarus to life immediately or even telling them what He proposed to do. Jesus feels with them, He too is disturbed. So much so, that when they arrived at the tomb of Lazarus ‘Jesus wept’.

The phrase, ‘deeply moved’ is a verb which originally meant to snort like a horse, to be agitated, troubled, literally He troubled Himself, He was inwardly deeply moved and outwardly visibly distressed.

Three arguments are given to explain why He wept at this time

1. He was overwhelmed by emotion at the time. His good friend was dead, the others with Him who He loved were heartbroken and it was all too much for Him. His tears would bring comfort to the other mourners.

2. He was greatly disturbed by the lack of faith evident. Why would Jesus cry for one he was about to raise? Would this not be superficial and prolong the pain of those he came to comfort? This ought to have been a happy occasion, not one for mourning a man about to be raised. Jesus knew what He was about to do and must have known that the sisters knew it was possible. By joining in with the mourning, it would surely cause them to believe Jesus mourning
Lazarus’ final departure.

3. He identified and empathised with all the misery and pain that resulted from the far-reaching consequences of sin which included the effect of death represented by this dead man and all the sorrowing broken-hearted people around him. There was also a righteous wrath against the sin that could cause so much sorrow.

I personally agree with argument number 3. Jesus sees things that we can’t see or refuse to see.

The company of Jews present are again arguing about Jesus, some sympathise with His caring nature, others scorn His apparent lack of action. They acknowledge that He has the power to open eyes, proving that the Jerusalemites now accept that Jesus did perform miracles and that the restoration of sight was a true miracle.

‘Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. ‘Take away the stone,’ he said. ‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’ So, they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’ John 11:38-42

Here we see that Lazarus’ tomb was a communal grave, consisting of a cave inside of which the dead were placed, normally on shelves, covered in grave clothes and normally in something similar to a rudimentary coffin. The cave could either be man-made or natural. A large slab of stone was placed in front of the cave to protect it from wild animals and grave robbers.

Jesus takes control of the situation and His commands are short and sharp. Once the stone was removed, Martha’s faith, which was so strong just a few moments before, wavered a little and so, Jesus reminds her of their earlier conversation, to restore that faith. Jesus prays, thanking God for the coming sign which Jesus knows will occur. He thanks God on behalf of or for the sake of those around, that they might believe.

‘When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’ John 11:42-44

The command ‘Lazarus, come out.’ is given. His loud voice, all heard it and would understand that Lazarus was to come forth by the command of Jesus no other means, indisputable evidence of His power to raise the dead, one day the same voice will raise ALL the dead, Matthew 5:28-29 / 1 Thessalonians 4:6.

Notice the short command was directed only at Lazarus, if He hadn’t specified Lazarus, then all the dead in that tomb may have walked out, a harrowing ordeal indeed. Lazarus comes out, still dressed in grave clothes, and the family is reunited. The bandages were wrapped around the body, the cloth was probably a towel under the chin.


Like Mary and Martha, we may have moments in our Christian lives where we want Jesus to show up straight away and help us in our time of need. Jesus loved them but He when received the message about Lazarus, He didn’t come to their aid straight away, he stayed where He was for two more days.

This can be a tough lesson for Christians to learn, there are times we need to hang in there until God decides to intervene, is not that He’s abandoned us or left us to it, it’s not that He doesn’t love us anymore but for our benefit, God allows us to experience pain.

The big question when difficult times come our way is simply this, do we believe our pain will end in glory? How can we give God the glory, when we’re going through really difficult times? Maybe when we understand why God allows pain in our lives, we can be patient and give Him all the glory He deserves.

The purpose of pain

1. God can use pain to get our attention, Proverbs 20:10.

2. God can use pain to guide us, Hebrews 12:7.

3. God can use pain to gage us, James 1:2-3.

4. God can use pain to guard us, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.

5. God can use pain to help us grow, James 1:4.