Lazarus and the Resurrection
© 2022 C. O. Bishop
This is a rather long chapter, and it has an important central narrative. There are, perhaps, dozens of sermons which could be derived from this passage, but our first priority is to hear and understand the whole story. So: to begin with, this is the story of Jesus’s friend, Lazarus of Bethany: not the “Lazarus” who was the beggar from Luke 16:20. (Same name; different men.)
This Lazarus was a homeowner in Bethany, almost two miles outside Jerusalem. He lived there with his two sisters, Mary and Martha. He was sick, and the sisters sent word to Jesus. Jesus was told, as they hoped, but apparently a little too late to get there in time. (How do we know? Jesus waited two days before responding, but when He arrived, Lazarus had already been in the grave for four days. We can see that even had Jesus left immediately, Lazarus still would have died.)
This is a key testimony to Jesus’s authority over life and death: He restored life to one who had been dead long enough that their corpse was beginning to decay. (That is why He waited.)
So, let’s read through the entire account, in John 11:1-46, and see exactly what happened. Then we will come back and touch on some of the key points we don’t want to miss, in just reading through it. In future messages we will come back again, and dig a little deeper.
Context: Where was Jesus?
Remember the context: In John 10:40, we saw that Jesus had left Jerusalem and had returned to the area where John the Baptist had begun his ministry (About 20 miles or more, east of Jerusalem, by the Jordan River, closer to Jericho.) So, he was probably at least 20 miles away… a long day’s walk, but certainly achievable. With that in mind, let’s read through the story.
1 Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) 3 Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.
4 When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. 5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. 6 When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. 7 Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again.
8 His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? 9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. 10 But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.
11 These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. 12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. 13 Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.
14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. 16 Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellowdisciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.
17 Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. 18 Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: 19 And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
20 Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. 21 Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 22 But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. 23 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. 24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? 27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.
28 And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. 29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him. 30 Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. 31 The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.
32 Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.35 Jesus wept. 36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!
37 And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? 38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.
39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?
41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. 42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. 44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
45 Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him. 46 But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees, and told them what things Jesus had done.
Several Points to Consider:
The Time Factor
One, we already noted, was that when Jesus heard the news that Lazarus was sick, it was already too late to just “run over there and heal him.” Jesus was only about 20-30 miles away, and he waited only two days, but when He arrived, Lazarus had already been in the grave for four days.
Perhaps the messengers had searched for Him for some time before they found him. Or… perhaps the terrain is steep enough that such a journey actually took longer than a day. Either way, Jesus delayed only two days, and Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days, when Jesus and the disciples arrived. Evidently, had they left immediately, Lazarus still would have died.
The Purpose of Healing
Another important point, is to see that Jesus was not “acting callous” toward the needs of His friends: in the first place, as we already saw, by the time Jesus got the news, it was already too late to physically “get there and heal him.” Could Jesus have healed Lazarus from a distance? Certainly, He could; and in other situations, He did just that, healing one young man from miles away, without ever seeing him. So: why did Jesus wait?
Jesus said He was glad “for the sake of His disciples,” that He was not there to prevent Lazarus’ death. When someone “suddenly gets well,” there are two ways to see it: We can recognize the authority of God, and (at least) recognize that He allowed them to suddenly get well, and we see it as an answer to prayer. The other is to say, “Well, that was serendipitous!” and thus ascribe the healing to blind chance, not giving honor to the Great Physician.
Sometimes such healings are so stupendous that even the surgeons attending a case are amazed and have no explanation for the healing. One of the missionaries we support (Abby Williams) was the recipient of just such a healing, and the surgeons could only say, “This sort of thing just doesn’t happen!” (Well… yes, but it DID!)
So, which way would build a “firmer faith” in the hearts of His disciples? Healing Lazarus from a distance (the only available choice, since he died before they could have arrived anyway, and which could have been seen as “just lucky”) or to let him die, and begin to decay, and then raise him back to full health and a normal life? Jesus chose the way that would have the most effect!
The Objective of Jesus
Jesus did not lose sight of His objective: He came to die, as the propitiation for our sins, yes: but before He died, He had to lay a foundation for faith that would last through the rest of time. He was building disciples who could go on and complete His work.
In case you hadn’t noticed, that is still the job of Jesus’s disciples. In 2nd Timothy 2:2, we see the command, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also.” Jesus never lost sight of His objective, which was to reach the World with the Gospel of God’s Grace; so, the point of this whole “exercise” was to build an unshakeable faith in the lives of the disciples. That is still our objective, here in our church!
It is also interesting to remember that Judas Iscariot was still among Jesus’s disciples at this time, and this obvious miracle did not bring him to faith. Other enemies were there, as well, and the miracle did not change their hearts. But many who witnessed the revival of Lazarus did believe in Jesus as the Messiah because of what they saw. The purpose of the miracle was to build faith.
What is the Difference between Revival and Resurrection?
We tend to lump together all “back from the dead” experiences as “resurrections;” but they are not. Medical staff “reestablishing a pulse” is not “bringing someone back from the dead.” That is a minor revival, at best. Jesus raised those who truly were dead, who had begun to decay. And it was still only a “revival,” not the “Resurrection!” So, what’s the difference?
Revival is Temporary
All the people who Jesus raised from the dead (or who the apostles raised from the dead) subsequently died again, anyway. It was just a temporary reprieve. Now, let’s suppose, for example, that Lazarus managed to stay alive after this event, until after Jesus’s death, burial, resurrection, and His ascension. If Lazarus “re-entered the tomb,” so to speak, sometime after Jesus’s ascension (in Acts 1:9) then his second experience was far different. The first time, he had spent four days in Sheol, the place of the dead, but specifically, in Paradise, “Abraham’s Bosom,” the place of the righteous dead, along with Abraham, and all the other Old Testament Saints.
But the second time (because Jesus literally had “moved Paradise,” he would find himself in the actual presence of God. Jesus had opened the way into the Holy of Holies, through His death at the Cross! That is a huge difference! And …Lazarus will get his resurrected body at the same time we get our resurrected bodies!
Resurrection is Eternal
The coming resurrections of the righteous and unrighteous dead both result in the formerly dead individuals receiving their resurrected, immortal bodies which can no longer die.
The righteous dead will enjoy eternal life with their Savior, in that immortal state…forever.
The unrighteous dead will suffer eternal torment in that never-dying body, eternally separated from God, in the Lake of Fire…forever. I don’t like this fact, and neither does Jesus!
But the Righteousness of God (and His Holiness) will be satisfied, one way or another. In Romans 3:25, we saw that Jesus satisfied the righteousness of God at the Cross, as our propitiation, by God’s Grace, through faith in His blood. But, regarding those who reject His Grace, and do not place their faith in His sacrifice at the Cross? He says “they are already condemned,” because they “have not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) While they live, they can change their thinking, and place their faith in Him. If they wait too long, they will miss their chance.
It is Appointed unto Man Once to Die, and after this the Judgment
Hebrews 9:27 makes it clear that we get “one shot at life”—no “do-overs,” no reincarnations, etc. As one modern musical performer put it, “Life is not a rehearsal: Life is the Gig!”
Lazarus was already a believer: he was not “getting a second chance.” His death and burial and revival brought many to faith…but he still died again. He got one actual life, and one actual (permanent) transition out of this life. The Eternal life that Jesus promises begins at the moment of faith, but the resurrected body is yet to come. In general, everyone dies once. There have been very few exceptions and God has had a purpose for each of them.
The Rapture provides a huge “single-event exception,” as 1st Corinthians 15:51, 52 says… “We shall not all die, but we shall all be changed.” But apart from that hope, every one of us faces physical death. And as believers, every one of us looks forward to the Resurrection.
The Only Hope for the Resurrection
Jesus spoke the simple truth, when He said, “I am the resurrection and the Life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
He is the Only Source of life, in every sense of the word. He created physical life…all of it, and He provides spiritual life. And He is the only source. Since our mortal bodies are each destined to die (unless the Rapture comes first) we look forward to the eternal resurrection of these mortal bodies, as immortal bodies. And Jesus is our only hope, either way.
We will expect to come back and dig out other, more specific truths from this chapter in the coming weeks.
Lord Jesus, ignite a fire in the hearts of Your servants, that we might shine in the darkness of this world, and that we might desire above all things to honor You, and to reach others with the Good news of eternal life in Christ.