About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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The Death Of Lazarus (ch.11:1-16)


From here on out in the Gospel of John we are drawing near to the end of the earthly ministry and life of Jesus.  The Feast of Dedication that has just passed was about three and a half months from the spring of the following year when Jesus would die on the cross.


Jesus goes to Bethany , about 2 miles south east of Jerusalem , where His good friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived.  The only other place in the New Testament where we see Mary and Martha is in Luke 10:38 to 42.  A close look at Mary, Martha, and Lazarus tells us that these people were special friends to Jesus.  We might think that Jesus did not have special friends.  We might think that is out of character for God in human flesh to have special friends, but that's not the case.  A serious study of the New Testament also tells us the Peter, James, and John, seem to be closer to Jesus than the other 9 apostles.  We also know that John considered himself as that disciple who Jesus loved.  See John 21:7 and 20.          


Verse 1 tells us that Lazarus was very sick, so sick that he was about to die.  So, in verse 3, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus.  The messenger told Jesus that "the one He loved is sick."  Again, we see here that Jesus loved Lazarus.  I'm sure that Jesus loves everyone, but there seems to be a special bond between Jesus and Lazarus.   

Note also that in verse 5 John specifically said that Jesus loved both Mary and Martha. 


Note in verse 3 the word "love", as in, Jesus loved Lazarus, is translated from the Greek word "phileo", meaning, brotherly love.  Two things we learn here.  You might say that Jesus loved Lazarus as a brother.  That being said, I point out the use of "phileo" here, and not "agape" that means selfless love," to demonstrate that the New Testament often uses these two Greek words interchangeably.     


Something that we should note is that by Jewish law whenever there was a special feast in Jerusalem , residents in Jerusalem and nearby towns were required to open their homes to the guests visiting the feasts.  Mary and Martha's home appeared to be the home that Jesus stayed in when He visited Jerusalem .      


In verse 4 Jesus responds by saying that this sickness is not going to end in death, but "it is for Godís glory, so Godís Son may be glorified."  We note here that both God and Jesus will be glorified by the miracle that will soon take place.  Weíve seen this before.  God is interested in glorifying Jesus and Jesus is interested in glorifying God. 


We should also note that Jesus said that this sickness would not end in death.  Well in once sense of the word it did.  Lazarus did die, but Jesus would raise him from the dead, signifying that death means nothing to Jesus.  Jesus could have healed Lazarus before he died but He didnít because whether Lazarus died or remained alive, it meant nothing to Jesus.  To prove this John tells us that when Jesus heard of Lazarusí sickness He did not rush to help him.  Jesus remained where He was for another two days which was long enough for Lazarus to die and be buried.


In verse 6 we note that after two
days Jesus told His disciples that He 
wanted to go to Judea, where Bethany and Jerusalem were locate.  Remember, every time that Jesus and His disciples went to Jerusalem they encountered much trouble.  By now I doubt if the disciples were all that excited to go to Jerusalem again.


Just why Jesus didn't rush to Lazarus' side might be a bit debatable.  There are two obvious reasons why Jesus delayed heading to Jerusalem .  One was that His time to die had not yet come.  The other reason was that He actually wanted Lazarus to die.  This is where Jewish tradition comes into play.  Jews believed that after a person died their soul hovered around their dead body for 3 days.  Jesus most likely wanted the Jews to know that Lazarus was in fact totally dead.  We see in verse 17 that when Jesus finally got to Bethany , Lazarus had been in the tomb for 4 days, one day passed the time when the soul would depart from the dead body   


Verse 7 tells us that Jesus told His disciples that they would now head back to Judea .  Again, as I've said above, this probably did not sit well with the disciples since they always encountered trouble in Judea .  This is clearly seen in verse 8 where the disciples reminded Jesus that the last time they were in Jerusalem the Jews attempted to kill Him.  I'm sure Jesus had not forgotten about that.  He needed no reminder. 


In verse 9 Jesus answered by saying, "Are there not twelve hours in the day Ö"  The reference to twelve hours shows us that Jesus is thinking of the Jewish day Ė basically twelve hours of sun and twelve hours of darkness.  The Jewish day revolved around sunrise and sunset.  The day ended at sunset and a new day began.  The Roman days were like our days, beginning at midnight and not sunset.  Of course, the reality of the situation is that there are only two days out of the year where there is a balance between dark and light.  Jesus was speaking figuratively here.  


Jesus then says that men can walk without stumbling in the day, but when the night comes it is harder to walk and thus people stumble in the darkness. 


I believe Jesus is using the twelve hours of light and day, which by the way, was that time of year that we see here, to make a deeper point.  I think He was telling His disciples that we need to go now since it is light, but, I think He had something else in mind.  He is the light of the world, and, since He was that light, He had to do certain things. The night would come when some things would not be done with such ease.


In verse 11 Jesus then tells His disciples that Lazarus is asleep and that He needs to go and wake him up.  Jesus doesnít differentiate between sleeping and being dead in this instance, and why should He.  Thereís no real difference to Him between death and sleep. 


In verse 12 the disciples took Jesusí words literally and could not figure out what the rush was if Lazarus was only sleeping.  This tells us something about Biblical interpretation.  We should be careful how we interpret Jesus and make sure that we don't take Him literally when He does not want us to take Him literally. 


In verse 14 Jesus plainly tells His disciples that Lazarus is dead, and for that He was glad.  Why would Jesus be glad that Lazarus died?  Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead.  His disciples would see this great miracle and would believe.  It is not that the disciples did not already believe.  This miracle would strengthen their trust in Jesus.   


It is interesting to me that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead just before He died and would be raised from the dead Himself.  This might well be a signal of His own resurrection that was not far off.    

This section ends in verse 16 by Thomas telling the other disciples, "Let us also go that we may die with Him."  There is some pessimism and defeatism in Thomasís words, or so I think.  The disciples did not want to see Jesus go back to Jerusalem . They probably didnít really want to go themselves, but, Thomas speaks up and says that if Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die, we might as well go and die with Him.   It sounds like resignation to me.  Weíve called Thomas the doubting disciple.  Whether he doubted more than the rest is really hard to say.  We only have a couple of incidences that support this idea.  This might actually suggest the opposite.   


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