Dead and buried, Lazarus comes to life
Lazarus dies1A man named Lazarus got sick. He lived in Bethany,  the village where the sisters Mary and Martha lived. 2This Mary was the one who poured expensive perfume on Jesus and then wiped his feet with her hair.  Lazarus was her brother.
3Mary and Martha sent a message to Jesus: “Master, your dear friend Lazarus is very sick.”
4But when Jesus got the message, he said, “This sickness isn’t going to end in death. When this is all over, people will be praising both God and the Son of God.”
5Jesus loved all three of the people in that family—Lazarus, Martha, and her sister Mary. 6Yet when Jesus got the news that Lazarus was sick, he didn’t go anywhere. He stayed where he was for another two days.
Going back to Judea to die7Only then did he tell his disciples, “Okay, let’s head back to Judea again.”
8The disciples said, “Teacher, are you kidding? The last time we were there, not long ago, the Jews were trying to stone you to death. Are you really going to go back there again?”
9Jesus said, “There are about 12 hours of daylight, right? If people go for a walk during daylight, they’re not going to stumble over something they can’t see. They’re walking in the light. 10But if people take a walk at night, they’re going to stumble. They’re not walking in the light.”
11That’s what he said. Then he told the disciples, “Our good friend Lazarus is sleeping now. But I’m going to go wake him up.”
12The disciples said, “Master, that’s good news. If he can sleep, he’ll get well.” 13The disciples took Jesus literally. They thought Lazarus was sleeping. But Jesus was using “sleep” as a gentle way of saying Lazarus had died.
14So Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15And for your sake, I’m glad I wasn’t there to heal him. What you’re going to see will give you a chance to believe in me even more. So, let’s get going.”
16Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, told his fellow disciples, “Well then, let’s go with him so we can die with him.”
“Your brother is going to rise”17By the time Jesus finally got to Bethany, Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18Bethany was on the outskirts of Jerusalem, about two miles  away. 19A lot of Jews in the area had come to comfort Martha and Mary in the death of their brother.
20When Martha got word that Jesus was approaching, she went to meet him. Mary stayed home. 21Martha confronted Jesus and said, “Master, if you had been here, my brother would still be alive. 22But I know that even now God will do whatever you ask him to do.”
23Jesus told Martha, “Your brother is going to rise and live again.”
24Martha said, “I know. On that last day,  he’ll rise again in the resurrection.”
25Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection.  I am the giver of life. People who believe in me, even though they die, they’ll live again. 26Everyone alive who believes in me will live forever. Death can’t have them. Do you believe me?”
27Martha said, “Yes, Master. I have no doubt that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who has come to this world.”
Jesus, angry and crying28Martha went back home and spoke privately to her sister Mary. She said, “The Teacher is here now. He wants to see you.”
29Mary got up right away and went to him. 30Jesus hadn’t gotten to Bethany yet. He was still at the place where he talked with Martha. 31Jews in the house comforting Mary saw her get up quickly and leave. They followed. They assumed she would go to the tomb, to be near her brother and to cry.
32When Mary reached Jesus, she dropped at his feet and said, “Master, if you had been here, my brother would still be alive.”
33Jesus saw her crying. Jews who came with her were crying too. Jesus saw all of this and his spirit changed. He became deeply upset and angry. 34He asked, “Where have you put his body?”
They said, “Master, follow us and we will show you.”
35Jesus began to cry.
36The Jews saw him crying and said, “Look how much he loved him.”
37But some others said, “Wasn’t he the one who could heal the man born blind? Shouldn’t he have been able to do something to keep Lazarus alive?”
“Lazarus, come out!”38By the time Jesus reached the tomb, he was even angrier than before. The tomb was a cave with a stone covering the entrance. 39Jesus said, “Move the stone away.”
Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, don’t do that. He’s been dead four days. It’s going to stink in there.”
40Jesus told her, “Didn’t I say if you believed you would see the glorious power of God?”
41Some of the people moved the stone. Jesus raised his eyes up toward the sky said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42You always hear me. I know that. But I’m saying this for the sake of the people standing here, to help convince them that you are the one who sent me.”
43When Jesus finished talking with the Father, in a loud voice he said, “Lazarus, come out!” 44Out came the dead man, walking. He wore strips of cloth over his body, which also covered his feet and hands. A cloth covered his face as well.
Jesus told the people, “Take those burial cloths off of him and let him go.”
45This convinced many Jews who had come to the tomb with Mary to believe that Jesus was who he said he was. 46Some, however, went in the other direction. They left to tell the Pharisees what Jesus had done.
Jews decide to kill Jesus to save the nation47Pharisees and leading priests called a meeting of the Jewish Council, the Sanhedrin.  They asked the group, “What are we going to do about this guy? He keeps performing one miracle after another—as signs that God sent him. 48If we don’t do something about this, everyone will believe he’s the Messiah. Romans will come in force. They’ll destroy our Temple and our nation.” 
49Caiaphas, who was serving that year as the high priest, said, “You don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. 50Don’t you realize it’s better for one man to die, so he can save an entire nation from dying?”
51Those weren’t his words coming out of his mouth. Those were the words of the high priest speaking as a prophet. He was prophesying about Jesus dying for the Jewish nation. 52He didn’t die for the Jewish nation alone. He died for all God’s children scattered throughout the world. 53From that day on, Jews worked their plots to kill Jesus.
54So Jesus stopped taking walks out in public among the Jews. In fact, he left the region and went to a city called Ephraim near the hilly badlands.  He and his disciples stayed there.
55It was almost time for Jews to celebrate Passover.  People from all over were going to Jerusalem early to ritually purify  themselves for worship. 56People were looking for Jesus and were talking about him as they stood in the Temple. They asked each other, “What do you think? He’s not going to risk coming to the festival this year, is he?” 57Pharisees and top priests ordered that anyone who saw Jesus should report it, so the authorities could arrest him.
Bethany was a village on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives, about two miles (3 km) from Jerusalem—a short walk.
Also known as Judgment Day, when God would judge everyone.
“I Am” is God’s name. When God told Moses to go to Egypt and free the Jewish people, Moses said the Jews would want to know who gave him the assignment. God told him to tell the people that “I Am” (Exodus 3:14) sent him. In John’s Gospel, Jesus seems to apply that name to himself as well, in seven “I Am” phrases.
- “the life-giving bread” (6:35)
- “the light in this world” (8:12)
- “the gate for the sheep” (10:7)
- “the good shepherd” (10:14)
- “the resurrection” (11:25)
- “the way, . . . the truth, . . . the life” (14:6)
- “the Genuine Grapevine” (15:1)
The Sanhedrin was a group of 70 Jewish leaders led by the high priest. They functioned as the top legislative and judicial body among Jews. They were a bit like a combination Congress-Supreme Court. They made the laws and they punished the people who broke them. They did not, however, have the authority to execute anyone. The Roman occupiers kept that authority for themselves.
Jewish leaders were afraid of a Jewish war of independence led by a warrior messiah from the family of King David. The next generation of Jews did, in fact, declare their independence. They revolted against the Romans in AD 66. The Romans responded in force, doing just what the Jewish leaders had feared. In AD 70, Romans leveled Jerusalem and the Temple.
Scholars say that Ephraim is now the West Bank city of Taybeh, about 15 miles (24 km) north of Jerusalem. That’s a day’s walk away. The village sat alongside the Judean badlands that run north and south on the west side of the Jordan River Valley.
Jews call this holiday by its Hebrew name: Pesach (PAY-sah). It was also called the Festival of Unleavened Bread. This was flatbread made with no yeast. Yeast is what makes bread dough rise. Many Jews today celebrate the holiday by eating cracker-like matzo. Tortillas would also qualify. The festival is a seven-day celebration beginning on the 14th day of the first month in the Jewish new year: Nisan, usually sometime in March or April. It varies because the Jewish calendar is based on the cycles of the moon. Jewish pilgrims came from all over the world to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem, much like Christian pilgrims today go to Bethlehem at Christmas and Jerusalem at Easter. At Passover, Jerusalem swelled to many times its normal size.
Jews became ritually unfit to offer sacrifices and worship in the Temple for various reasons. They may have touched something dead, or gone into the home of a non-Jewish person, or had a wet dream. There were cleansing rituals they needed to observe, which included washing themselves in a ritual bath known as a mikvah. And they may have needed to wait for a day or more after the bath. See Leviticus 11 for some of the rules Jews were told to observe.
First question. It’s the elephant at the Bible study. Why is John, probably the last of the four Gospels written, the only one that reports Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead? The resurrection of Jesus is certainly the headline of the Gospels, but raising Lazarus out of the tomb should have made the front page. Speculation about why three Gospels skipped it?
Jesus left Jerusalem, after a bitter debate with Jewish leaders there. He and the disciples traveled east, past Jericho and across the Jordan River, into what is now the Arab country of Jordan. He was there when he got news Lazarus was deathly ill. Asked to rush there and heal him, Jesus waited two days, until Lazarus died. He told his disciples, “When this is all over, people will be praising both God and the Son of God” (John 11:4). Doesn’t that sound a bit cruel, putting the family and friends of Lazarus through that?
To what extent do you think Jesus intended the raising of Lazarus to boost the faith of the disciples, who would soon witness the crucifixion of Jesus? Do you think that might have been the major reason Jesus waited for Lazarus to die?
The most common question that comes out of this story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead is why Jesus cried. The writer doesn’t answer the question, perhaps because the writer doesn’t know the answer. Even if John had been the writer of this Gospel, imagine him trying to work up the chutzpah to go to Jesus after Lazarus is raised and ask him, man to man, why he cried. If you had been in the position of Jesus, what do you see in the scenes reported that could have made you cry?
Jewish leaders seemed genuinely concerned that Jesus as Messiah could spark a Jewish revolt against Rome, and that the Roman army would retaliate with devastating force. Pick one of the following reactions, or add one of your own.
- Jewish leaders weren’t worried about the country. They were worried about keeping their jobs.
- They were worried about their lives. They were worried about what patriotic Jews would do with them and with all Jews who had collaborated with Rome.
- They were genuinely worried about their country and what a vindictive Roman army could do to it.
LIFE APPLICATION. When you read what Martha had to say to Jesus about the death of her brother, what parallels do you see in the way we react to the death of someone we love?