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The Resurrection and the Life: Believest Thou This?

Updated on March 27, 2016

A Look at the Miracle


This last and greatest public miracle in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ is recorded by John in the 11th chapter of his gospel. In this, we have the history of that illustrious miracle which Christ performed a little before his death—the raising of Lazarus to life. It is only recorded by John; for the other three gospels confine themselves to what Christ did in Galilee, where he resided most, and scarcely ever carried their history into Jerusalem until the week of Jesus’ passion. Since John’s gospel relates chiefly to what passed at Jerusalem; this passage was reserved exclusively for his record.[1]

The event took place during the last winter of Jesus’ life, following His withdrawal into Perea, prior to the last Passover. It marked the high point of His ministry in the neighborhood of Jersusalem and made the concluding appeal to the citizenry on the basis of signs. It is appropriate, therefore, for the Lord Jesus Christ to use this event, the confrontation with death, as the last manifestation of His power in His public ministry. As J. Vernon McGee observes:

“The subject of death is skirted by people today. The undertakers try in every way to make death seem like a pleasant episode. But let us face it very frankly, we can’t cover up death by embalming and painting up the face, dressing the body in a good suit of clothes, and then placing it in a pretty coffin surrounded by flowers. Although this is done to help soften the shock, death is an awful thing. Martha said that he had been buried for four days already and his body would stink; it would be decaying. Someone may think that sounds crude. So is death crude. It is awful. This case is certainly going to require a miracle.”[2]

The emergency itself was nothing unusual in human life. Death, after all, is the common inheritance of all descendants of Adam and Eve. Though Jesus will confront it and triumph, the initial response of Jesus was not what the friends of Lazarus were expecting. Jesus delayed any action and this is difficult to explain on any other ground than that of His complete mastery of death.[3] Jesus told the disciples specifically that Lazarus’ sickness was “not unto death” (11:4) but “to the intent that ye may believe” (11:15).

Indeed, the division of belief and unbelief which had become apparent in the crowd in the latter stages of His ministry (John 7:12, 40-44; 8:30, 59; 9:16; and 10:19-21) became fixed after this miracle. The rulers began definite preparation to destroy Him while the disciples became more firmly grounded in their faith.[4]

The account in John chapter 11 begins with the introduction of a “certain man,” Lazarus, who was sick. The connection of him to Jesus in the Gospel of John is not necessarily because he was well known, but more because his sister Mary was well known as the woman who had anointed Jesus’ feet. We know that Jesus, however, had a personal connection with him because it is His love for Lazarus that accompanies the plea for His intervention (John 11:3). Their plea is unavoidable, as if somehow they hope that through the strength and intimacy of their relationship with Him, Jesus will grant them a special intervention. But they have no way of knowing what the plan of God is for the sickness and impending death of their beloved brother. Jesus, of course, does know.

The Purpose

In His last public miracle Jesus seeks not to socialize or patronize. The purpose of this event is the glory of God and glorification of the Son of God (11:4). What we see as catastrophe, God sees as an opportunity for good.

John writes that Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus and it would seem cruel to some to let Lazarus die and allow Martha and Mary to suffer the anguish of his passing when Jesus could have done something. There is a message here for us. The Lord Jesus is not motivated by sentiment; He is subject to the Father’s will. We need to recognize that He had a reason, how little we may understand it, and His ways are perfect. Jesus never moves by sentiment. He is motivated by love, and that love is for the good of the individual and for the glory of God.[5] The Lord always deals with His children in love…always.

Jesus waited two days. To Mary and Martha, this wait proved catastrophic. To the Lord Jesus, it was another opportunity for the manifestation of His divine power, merely a parenthetical chapter in the life of Lazarus that would make no ultimate difference in his welfare. If Jesus had only been human, He may have raced to Lazarus bedside and given what He could of aid and comfort.[6]

In truth, Lazarus was probably dead before Jesus even received the message that he was sick. Imagine the confusion of the disciples then, after perceiving that Jesus’ reference to Lazarus being asleep was a good thing, a sign that he would get well, when Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.” Further, Jesus expresses that He was glad that they were not there. How could He be glad they were not there? Does Jesus’ statement of his sickness “not being unto death” have some other meaning? Perhaps only that death would not be the final result of his sickness?[7] We, as New Testament Christians, have the benefit of hindsight. While the disciples dealt with the confusion of the moment, we have seen the purpose.

Of course, the Lord Jesus was not glad that Lazarus had died, but He was glad He was not at Bethany at the time. If He had been there, Lazarus might not have died. Nowhere is it recorded in the New Testament that a person died in the presence of the Lord.[8] The disciples would see a greater miracle than Jesus preventing death. They would see a man raised from death. In this way, their faith would be strengthened. Therefore, the Lord Jesus said that He was glad for their sakes that He had not been at Bethany. [9]

The Pessimism

The fear of physical harm to Him notwithstanding, there was a real a doubt that Jesus would accomplish anything once He had decided to return to Bethany. No better expression of this sentiment is given than the one by the famous doubter, Thomas. He was convinced that only “doom and disappointment,” perhaps even death, awaited Jesus’ entourage (11:16).[10] When Jesus arrived in Bethany, He was greeted with despair and the certainty that He was too late to help, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (11:21). Martha, who exhibited at least a morsel of faith by allowing for the possibility that Jesus could ask of God and receive whatever He wanted (11:22), doubted Jesus in the here and now, or as an equal with God, relegating Him perhaps to mere prophet status.[11] Even when Jesus said directly, “Thy brother shall rise again,” Martha only understood it to be applicable in the future, but Jesus meant it as a personal promise of immediate action.[12]

When Jesus met Mary, she expressed her own doubts about the power of Jesus in the immediate now (11:32). Even the Jews asked rhetorically how Jesus could heal the blind but not keep Lazarus from dying. While Jesus had raised the dead before, they only saw Jesus’ ability to prevent death, not restore life. Even Martha only understood the resurrection as a concept.

The Proclamation

While Martha had expressed her faith in the resurrection as a principle, Jesus revealed the resurrection as a person with the fifth great “I AM” statement: “I am the resurrection and the life…” (11:25). Martha believed that at His prayer God would give Him any thing, but He would have her know that by His word He could work anything. Martha believed in a resurrection at the last day; but Christ tells her that He had that power within His own hand, that the dead were to hear his voice (John 5:25). If Jesus could raise a world of men that had been dead many ages, most assuredly He could raise one man that had been dead four days. [13] He is the embodiment of all life, including the resurrection.[14] This is the sovereign power of Christ, the fountain of life, and the head and author of the resurrection. There is no mistaking His claim of deity. To the bewilderment of the disciples and the mourning sisters, Jesus presented Himself as the resurrection and the life and challenged them to believe in Him against the present situation, “…Believest thou this (vs. 26)?”[15] Could He now prove His power?

The Procedure

Let there first be no dispute that Lazarus was dead. The fact of Lazarus’ being in the grave for four days was added as proof of his death. Notice how the Holy Spirit takes every precaution to show that the resurrection of Lazarus was really a miracle. With Lazarus probably dying shortly after the messengers left to find Jesus, it was a day’s journey from Bethany to Bethabara, where Jesus was. After hearing of Lazarus’ illness, Jesus stayed two more days. Then it was another day’s journey to Bethany. This explains the four days Lazarus was in the grave.[16] Some Jews believed that the soul of the dead hovered around a body for three days after death but departed finally on the fourth day as the body began to decompose. From that perspective, Lazarus was beyond even a miraculous resurrection.[17]

Jesus did not detach from the grief that was suffered. He wept with them. Not for the death of Lazarus, since He knew the joy that would follow, but more for indignation, indignation at the sorrow that death had wrought on the human race. He was angered at man’s great enemy.[18]

Jesus issues orders to remove the stone (v. 39) He would have this stone removed so that all those who were watching might see the body as it lay dead in the grave, and that a way was made for its coming out, and it might appear to be a true body, and not a ghost or specter. He would have some of the servants to remove it, that they might be witnesses, by the smell of the putrefaction of the body, and known, therefore, that he was truly dead.[19] This makes this raising from the dead more significant in my mind. Physical decay is present. His body is rotting. This is not the son of the widow of Nain, who was raised enroute to the grave, or Jairus daughter who even Jesus said appeared outwardly to be asleep. These are significant miracles, yes, but Lazarus is a step beyond. In this Jesus is requiring an element of faith because everyone agrees Lazarus is beyond help. He restates His requirement when Martha objects to His order to remove the stone (11:40). Then when all eyes are on Him, Jesus prays. According to J. Vernon McGee:

“Remember that this whole incident is for the glory of God. Jesus prays audibly to let the people know that what He is going to do is the will of the Father so that the Father will get the glory. He voices His prayer for the benefit of those who are present.”[20]

When Jesus had completed His prayer, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, Come forth!” The voice of command was the last stage of action. Jesus word had calmed the sea; now it called the dead back to life in fulfillment of His own word (John 5:25). The response was electric, “And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, “Loose him, and let him go.”[21]

The Production

One must choose sides over an event such as this. The miracle is beyond dispute and the demonstrative power of Christ is irrefutable, He is the great I AM. Belief was solidified in the eyes of many; so too was unbelief. The culmination of this event is the final setting in motion to crucify Christ. It is the classic ad hominem attack: I cannot refute the message, thus I will kill the messenger. The plan was politically expedient and the perfect solution to the Roman problem, or so it seemed. Jesus would die for the nation and life would go on as usual. But life did not return to normal and the story of Christ did not end. The story of Christ lives on and that story turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

Sources cited:

[1] Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's commentary on the whole Bible : Complete and unabridged in one volume, electronic version . (Hendrickson: Peabody, 1991, 1996)

[2]McGee, J. V. Thru the Bible commentary. Based on the Thru the Bible radio program. (electronic ed.) (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 1981, 1997)

[3] Tenney, Merrill C. John: The Gospel of Belief. An Analytical Study of the Text. (Wm. B Eerdman’s Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, 1948, 1976), 171-172

[4] Ibid, 170

[5]McGee, J. V. Thru the Bible commentary. Based on the Thru the Bible radio program. (electronic ed.) . Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 1981, 1997.

[6] Tenney, 172.

[7] Towns, Elmer. The Gospel of John: Believe and Live (AMG Publishers: Chattanooga, 2002),106.

[8] Ibid, 107,108.

[9]MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments . (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 1995,1997), elec ed.

[10] Tenney, 173.

[11] Towns, 109.

[12] Ibid, 109

[13]Henry, elec. ed, no page number

[14] Towns, 109.

[15] Tenney, 175.

[16] MacDonald, W., & Farstad, elec. Ed, no page number

[17] Towns, 111.

[18] Tenney, 175.

[19] Henry, M., elec., no page.

[20] McGee, (electronic ed.).

[21] Tenney, 176.


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    • tjlajoie profile image

      Tim Lajoie 18 months ago from Lewiston, Maine

      Thank you, Lawrence!

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 18 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Enjoyed this read.