Jesus: The Resurrection and the Life (11:1-44)

Bible Passage: John 11:1-44

In this passage we have the fifth of the ‘I Am’ statements, where Jesus declares himself to be the resurrection and the life after seeing his friend Lazarus pass away. He demonstrates this by bringing him back to life. When Jesus first heard the news of Lazarus’s illness, he was on the other side of the Jordan River, about 150km away. Jesus knew that if he was to return to Jerusalem, his life would be under threat from the religious authorities. Jesus did initially return to Bethany on hearing of Lazarus’s sickness, but later he knew (probably prophetically) that Lazarus had died at this point the returned. When he arrived, Jesus spoke with Lazarus’ sisters, attempting to comfort them by saying that he would rise again. Whilst this was some consolation, they assumed Jesus was talking about the future when all the dead will be raised.

The Sadness of Death: When Jesus was taken to the tomb of Lazarus, his response was to weep. Even though he knew that he was about to raise him back to life, Jesus still cried at the grave of his friend. For Jesus, the tears were not simply tears of loss (because he knew Lazarus would be back) but tears at death itself. Death is an intruder in God’s good world, the wages of sin. It is unnatural and it is right that it causes us to grieve and to weep. We long for the day when it is no more. Jesus was not a mere pragmatist who detached himself from the emotional impact of the situation but fully engaged with the tears that were warranted by the moment.

A Surprising Delay: Perhaps the most surprising element of this story is the fact that Jesus delayed his departure. He first heard that Lazarus was unwell two days before he finally went to him. It wasn’t until he was aware that Lazarus was dead that he visited. As Martha rightly said, had Jesus been there he could have healed Lazarus’ illness, but he was not there. The passage explains to us the reason for the delay. Verse 5 tells us that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and then the next verse says “So…he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” His delay was motivated by his love for them. The implication is that it was better for them that he let Lazarus die and raised him than if he had rushed to them as soon as he heard about the illness.

In fact, even if Jesus had set off straight away he wouldn’t have been there before Lazarus died. The journey took four days and Lazarus died two days after Jesus first heard he was ill. At the time, many people believed that after a person died their spirit stayed with the body for three days trying to re-enter before it departed. Although there is no indication that Jesus agreed with this belief, it does explain why he delayed. If he had called Lazarus forth after two days, it would be easier for people to dismiss and explain away than waiting the 4 days that he did.

God’s Glory on Display: Jesus’ purpose in all of this, according to verse 4 and verses 40-42 was that people would see the glory of God. The incident was supposed to be a revelation to people that showed them the power and character of God in a way that built their trust and faith in him. Raising Lazarus after four days rather than two served this purpose more effectively, and it is for this reason that delaying his departure was an act of love on Jesus’ part: it enabled people to see the glory of God more clearly. What people saw of God was his power over death in Jesus. Raising Lazarus from the dead was Jesus’ pre-cursor to his own resurrection. It surely added to the faith of the disciples and this family that Jesus was truly risen and was truly the one who had the power of life and death in his hand. It was a visual demonstration that built faith in the one who was risen never to die again, unlike Lazarus who would die again at his appointed time.

Potential Applications:

  • Some people will be in a season of grief, mourning the loss of people close to them. There is comfort to be found in this passage and you might want to offer prayer for those who are in this place.
  • For some people, fear of death is a real struggle. This truth about Jesus is a great encouragement. You could offer prayer for those who struggle in this way.
  • This passage reveals Jesus as supreme even over death. It should challenge any small views we have of him, and lead us to awe and wonder. A response of praise and worship is appropriate.