What can we learn from Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead? What hope does this give the believer?
Lazarus’ name is Hebrew in origin and interestingly means “God is my help.” The account of Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead is not just symbolic of Jesus being God and having within Himself the power to resurrect the dead…it is a story that we will all be raised someday. Some will be raised to eternal life while others will be raised to eternal judgment (Rev 20:11-15). The example of Lazarus’ being raised from the dead has important truths that the believer can learn about the plan of salvation but also has applications for the unbeliever.
John 11:4-6 “But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”
The interesting fact is that Jesus said that “This illness does not lead to death” but Lazarus would die and Jesus knew this. Why did He say this? He answers this in the next statement, “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Martha and Mary must have wondered why Jesus didn’t come immediately to heal Lazarus but instead Jesus stayed “two days longer in the place where he was.” To find out why He waited we read on in John’s gospel.
John 11:11-15 “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Jesus says that Lazarus has fallen asleep, a frequent use of the Jewish vernacular meaning death. The disciples didn’t understand because they said that if Lazarus is sleeping, he’ll get better but Jesus plainly said that Lazarus is dead. Why then does Jesus say that “for your sake I am glad that I was not there?” It is so “that [they] may believe.” Believe what?
Dead for four Days
John 11:17-27 “Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
Lazarus was not only dead but dead for four days which means that his body had begun to undergo deterioration or decay. Being dead for four days makes the possibility of Lazarus living again humanly impossible. Martha seems to rebuke Jesus by saying “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus tells Martha that “Your brother will rise again” and Martha replies “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” The “last day” is a reference to the day when all will be raised from their graves; some to eternal life and some to everlasting destruction. Martha believed in the resurrection and so she knew that he would live again indicating that she believe that Lazarus would be in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus said that He is “the resurrection and the life [and] whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live again.” Martha even goes further and says that “Yes Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Martha knows more theology than do the religious leaders like the Pharisees and certainly more that the Sadducees, who didn’t even believe in the resurrection.
Jesus’ Anger for Disbelief
John 11:33-37 “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
There is an interesting Greek word where Jesus said in verse 33 that He was deeply moved. The word for moved is not that He had was moved by heartache or feeling the loss of Lazarus’ life. The word for moved is one of the strongest Greek words “embrimaomai” which is from the Greek root word “brimaomai: and it literally means “to snort with anger.” Why did this apparently make Him angry? Perhaps it was due to their disbelief in His ability to raise the dead. Maybe it was from the fact that they didn’t realize that he was in a much better place. In this same sentence, there is also an interesting Greek use of the word for “great troubled” which is “tarasso” and means “agitated” or “troubled.” Again, there is mystery in this as to why Jesus was both agitated and angry. It may be that He knew what the Jews were thinking or said by their callous remark “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” The Jews apparently didn’t believe that Jesus could raise the dead and many didn’t believe in the resurrection, unlike Martha and Mary. It might have even be anger directed toward death itself and the Enemy who brought death to humanity in the Garden by his deceiving of Eve and Adam’s disobedience.
Lazarus Raised from the Dead
John11: 39-44 “Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Jesus tells them to “Take away the stone” but Martha tried to tell Jesus that the stench of Lazarus’ dead body, now in the grave for four days, would be overwhelming. Martha apparently still didn’t get it. Perhaps that is why Jesus was both agitated and angry (11:33) because none of them believed that Jesus could actually raise the dead. Here Jesus rebukes Martha for her unbelief or her lack of understanding about what Jesus was trying to tell her “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” When it says that Jesus cried out in a loud voice, the Greek indicates that it was a shout and so all that were there could not help but hear Jesus’ words. Jesus cried out with a very loud shout, “Lazarus, come out.” And so he did. I believe that if Jesus had not mentioned Lazarus’ specifically by name, all that were in their graves would have come out of them because Jesus’ has effectual power to raise the dead and to bring about what He declares for He is the resurrection and the life.
If you have only been born once, you’ll die twice but if you’re born twice, then you’ll die only once. What I mean is that if you have only been born of a human mother, then you will die a natural death and then the eternal death of condemnation, however, if you have been born again (literally “born from above” in John 3:3), then you’ll only die once. A born again Christian dies a natural death but then they don’t have to worry about the second death because “The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” (Rev 2:11) and “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ” (Rev 20:6). But if you are not saved, then take this warning seriously as it is written “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars [will have] their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev 21:8).
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon