The Raising of Lazarus

John Chapter 11

“Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43, all citations from NASB).

by Mike Ensley

The Raising of Lazarus

Raising Lazarus from the dead was an incredible miracle performed by Jesus not long before his crucifixion. It holds important lessons for his disciples, the family of Lazarus, the people who witnessed it, the scribes and Pharisees, and especially for us.

Lesson for His disciples

In John 11:1-4, Jesus was informed that Lazarus was sick. It was a simple message from Martha and Mary, “Lord, behold, he whom you love is sick.” Jesus loved this family. Verse 5 says, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister, and Lazarus.” The sisters probably thought Jesus would come immediately. Instead, verse 6 says he tarried two days where he was. As Jesus said, “This sickness is not meant for death, but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (verse 4).

Jesus knew that Lazarus would die. He could have come earlier and prevented this. But that would not have glorified God to the extent that raising Lazarus from the dead did.

Also, Jesus knew his disciples would be discouraged following his death. Raising Lazarus soon before this gave them hope, and strengthened their faith. It was an encouraging memory between Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Continuing at verse 7, Jesus informed the disciples it was time to go to Judea. In verse 11 he told them that Lazarus had fallen asleep and that he must go to awaken him.

Not surprisingly, the disciples did not understand. Therefore, Jesus told them plainly, Lazarus had died. He added, “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe” (verses 14, 15). Did they not believe before this? Evidently, not as they should. This experience would help them believe in the resurrection power of God.

Lesson for the Family and Witnesses

When Jesus and the disciples arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been dead four days. His body had already been placed in a tomb with a large stone sealing the entrance. But the grieving by Lazarus’ family and friends had not yet ended. Many remained to console them.

Upon hearing that Jesus had arrived, Martha ran to him first. This is interesting because Martha usually tended to the temporal needs of those around her, while Mary listened to Jesus’ words (Luke 10:38-42). But now Martha could not wait to be with Jesus. Through her grief she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).

It must have troubled Jesus’ heart to see Martha in such pain. He told her that her brother would rise from the dead. Martha answered, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” Evidently, even though Martha had been busy serving, she had also been listening.

Jesus replied in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in me will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” These words must have been very comforting. Martha and Mary may have been disappointed, maybe even a bit betrayed, by the delay. But these words reassured them that Jesus understood and was in control.

At this point, Jesus likely told Martha that he would like to speak with Mary (verse 28), who then came to him. As Mary approached Jesus, she said the same as Martha, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But there is a difference. Martha came to him sad, but controlled. Mary was sobbing (verse 33). Jesus could see that she was not in a state of mind to receive the lesson he gave Martha, so he did not try. Instead, he allowed the coming miracle to do the teaching. He simply asked, “Where have you laid him” (verse 34)? To which those with Mary replied, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus then showed how the sadness of this event weighed on his heart. Verse 35 simply says, “Jesus wept.”

Though this verse is short, it conveys much. Why did Jesus weep? He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. But he wept out of the compassion in his heart, not only for Lazarus, but for his family and friends. Their grief reflects that of humanity, ever since the penalty of death was pronounced on mankind. Jesus came to save mankind from this fate (1 Corinthians 15:22). In Hebrews 4:15 Jesus is described as a sympathetic High Priest, able to understand and love us. Experiences like this touched Jesus with a feeling of man’s infirmities.

As Jesus approached the tomb, he commanded, “Remove the stone” (verse 39). Martha cautioned him, “Lord, he has been dead for four days!” In our culture we hear accounts of “near death experiences,” when people have had their hearts stop beating for a few moments or even minutes. This was different. Lazarus had been dead long enough to begin decomposition. But Jesus answered Martha, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God” (verse 40)?

Jesus then prayed aloud, thanking God for always hearing him. He prayed for all those attending, that they may believe that God did indeed send him. He then turned toward the tomb and shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out” (verse 43)!

In the King James translation it is rendered, “Lazarus, come forth.” “Forth” in King James, and “out” in NASB are from Strong’s G1854, exo, meaning “out (side, of doors).” Jesus was literally calling Lazarus out of death. What a powerful lesson for all who were there. It made a lasting impression on many (John 12:17).

Lesson for the Scribes and Pharisees

The first reference to “Lazarus” is in Luke 16:19-31, in the parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” We pose the question: are these two accounts related? We think they are.

This is the only parable where Jesus used a proper name for one of the characters, “Lazarus.” Why? At the end of the parable, the rich man (representing scribes and Pharisees) egged Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house so they would repent and not come to his place of suffering. Jesus said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). A few weeks later, “Lazarus” rose from the dead at the call of Jesus. Surely, now the scribes and Pharisees would accept Jesus. But they would not.

The end of John Chapter 11 gives the Pharisees’ response to the raising of Lazarus. “If we let him go on like this, all the people will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take over both our place and our nation” (verse 48).

For them, position and power were more important than anything else. The raising of Lazarus should have alerted them — especially after the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus! But they were blinded by self-interest. They sinned against a tremendous amount of light. They not only wanted to kill Jesus but to kill Lazarus also, because, on account of him, many believed (John 12:9-11).1

(1) For more on the interpretation of The Rich Man and Lazarus, listen to Bro. Michael Nekora’s discourse, “The Rich Man and Lazarus,” available in the “Christian Resources” App.

Lesson for the Church

What is the lesson in the raising of Lazarus, for us? Jesus said in John 5:28-29, “Do not be amazed at this; for a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice, and will come out: those who did good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed bad deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”

The resurrection of the dead is such an important part of our faith. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17 that without it, our faith is worthless. The raising of Lazarus manifests God’s power. In his kingdom, Christ will use that power to bless all the families of the earth.