John's Gospel-a new look-number 12: Chapter 12 The raising of Lazarus
John's Gospel. A New Look - Number 12: Chapter 11-The Raising of Lazarus.
John is now halfway through his Gospel . Before he describes the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, John records how Jesus raised his friend Lazarus, "the one who he loved" (vs.3). In contradiction to what a friend would normally do, Jesus remains for two days in the place where he receives the message about Lazarus, before beginning his journey to Bethany. While Mary, Martha and the rest of the family and friends looked at this crises from a human point of view, Jesus sees it from an eternal perspective as he did with the healing of the man born blind in Chapter 9. Here again God is going to be glorified in the healing, rather than a family being spared the heartbreak and sadness that comes with death.
It is interesting that John is the only Gospel writer who records this event which seems so important to us in the telling of the story of Jesus. A second interesting thing is the behaviour of Thomas, who is ready to die with Jesus at this stage (vs. 16), an attitude that we don't usually ascribe to "doubting Thomas".
In this chapter John also records the dramatic sentence: "Jesus wept" (vs. 35).
A careful word study of the words for love that John uses in this chapter help in understanding the attitude that Jesus had towards his friends and towards the action that he took when Lazarus was ill and dying. While most of the English translations of the New Testament make no distinction between the Greek words "agape" and "phileo", the NIV attempts to correct this in the discourse between Jesus and Peter as recorded in John 21 by translating the latter as love and the former as real love. There is no doubt that the two words are not simply synonyms, but rather carry an important difference in meaning. In John 21:15-17, John again describes how Jesus uses these two words to teach Peter an important lesson about what real love is all about.
A friendship love in the situation with Lazarus would have required an immediate rushing to the bedside of a friend, but a deeper, "agape" love is being displayed. This is then also what God did for us by sending His Son to die for us on the cross (John 3:15/6). It is not dependant on the affection God had for sinful man, but rather the sacrifice that He and His Son were prepared to make on our behalf - loving us in spite of our response in rejecting Him and abusing Him. That is what real love demands and does. It looks past the emotional response to a self-sacrificial giving of self for the greater cause. So in verse 5, John records that Jesus loved (agape) Martha, Mary and Lazarus giving us an insight of the otherwise rather strange behaviour of their friend (phileo) Jesus.
In verse 36 the Jews make the statement: " See how he loved him!" (phileo) when, in fact, Jesus loved him "agape" and so allowed the suffering and heartbreak because a much greater cause was being achieved in the raising of Lazarus from the dead, than would have been from a "mere" healing: "You would see the glory of God?"
At this the conflict between the believers and non-believers was accentuated and so fear grew in the minds of the Jewish leaders that they would lose control of the people and then even of the nation. Under the Pax Romana, the Roman authorities were happy to allow people in the empire to be governed by their own people under their own laws, but if they lost control then Rome would send in the troops to restore law and order and if necessary take over control of the country.
The words of Caiaphas "it is better that one man die for the nation than all may die", then take on a double meaning - Jesus had to die to save the Jewish leaders from losing control of the nation, but in a broader sense Jesus had to die for a greater and more important cause - for the sins of mankind.
To escape the plans of the Jews to kill him, Jesus withdraws into the wilderness. In Jerusalem preparations are made for the approaching Passover. Looming large in the minds of all, is the question: "What will Jesus do? and also "what will they do with Jesus?" The evidence that John has gathered and presented so far in presenting this Gospel is building up to the stated conclusion "to show that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God." (John 20:30/31) The healing of Lazarus is the final sign.