John 11:1-45


There are some questions that are too big to be answered with mere words.  This chapter deals with such a question.  The question had been asked in the previous chapter.  The Jews who had seen the miracles of Jesus and who had heard His teaching gathered around Him and asked, “Are you the Christ?” (John 10:24).


          The Jews therefore gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, "How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." (John 10:24).


This is a big question.  It is THE big question in this book.  It is a big question that deserves a big answer.  The narrative of John 11 is the answer.


John 11:1-16

John 11:17-37

John 11:38-44

John 11:45-57

Preparation for the miracle

Arrival of Jesus

Miracle Performed

Results of the Miracle

Jesus is away

What took place in Bethany



This chapter will provide a turning point.  After this, the enemies of Jesus will seek to put Him to death.  They have been able to tolerate much, but they will go no further.  They will be unwilling to accept that Jesus can give life to the dead.





          Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 And it was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. (John 11:1-2).


The first two verses of this chapter set up our cast of characters and also introduce the problem that they face.


1.       Lazarus of Bethany.


This is a Hellenized form of the Hebrew name Eleazer, a name known to the Old Testament.  It means “helped by God.”  This also happens to be the name Jesus used in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus, but there is no indication that they are the same person.


Bethany is a small suburb of Jerusalem and is located on the opposite side of the Mount of Olives.


2.       Mary.


We are told that this was the same Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair.  John has not yet told of this event.  He will do so in chapter 12, but it was apparently so well known to the church at large that he is able to mention it now.


3.       Martha.


The dynamics of Mary and Martha and known to us from Luke 10:38-42.  It is the story where Jesus visited the house of Martha and she found herself distracted at the preparations and upset because her sister Mary had chosen instead to sit at the feet of Jesus.


There will be none of that discord in this chapter.  It is a time when the two sisters will come together for mutual support.





          The sisters therefore sent to Him, saying, "Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick." 4 But when Jesus heard it, He said, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it." (John 11:3-4).


Notice how Mary and Martha handle the sickness of their brother.  First they prayed.  They did this by sending word to Jesus.  This was not a last resort.  They seem to have sent word to Him early on.  At the same time, there is an urgency to this request.  Lazarus was sick and it was a life-threatening sickness.


Yet there is no urgency on the part of Jesus.  He states that the purpose for this sickness is not unto death.  This is not to be the end of Lazarus.  It is, instead, to be an opportunity for the glory of God.




          Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. 6 When therefore He heard that he was sick, He stayed then two days longer in the place where He was. (John 11:5-6).


As we read of the delay of Jesus, we might be tempted to think that Jesus did not care about this little family from Bethany.  However, verse 5 points out that Jesus loved them.  It was BECAUSE of His love for them that He delayed.  This is seen in verse 6 when we see the inclusion of the word “therefore.”  He loved them, therefore He waited.


Why did He wait?  Because there was something wonderful that was going to happen but it necessitated a waiting period.  There was going to be a resurrection, but first there would have to be a death.


Understanding the delay of Jesus and the corresponding love of Jesus might help you to answer some questions in your life right now.  When God is not immediately answering your prayers, it could be that He has a resurrection planned for you.





          Then after this He said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." 8 The disciples said to Him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?" 9 Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 "But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." (John 11:7-10).


The travel plans of Jesus must have struck the disciples as unusual.  They had recently left Jerusalem under a cloud of hostility.  There were rocks with Jesus’ name on them waiting in Jerusalem.  There were those in Jerusalem who wished to see Jesus stoned and put to death.  The disciples are quick to point this out.


Jesus replies with a proverb.  It is a proverb about timeliness and about light.  These two ideas are combined in this proverb to teach us several lessons.


1.       The Lesson of Timeliness.


Jesus was in tune with the times and the seasons of the Father’s plan.  The Gospel of John has presented a continuing refrain reminding us that “His hour had not yet come” (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20).  Though the disciples were worried about the response that awaited them in Jerusalem, the truth was that nothing could harm them until the appropriate hour.


2.       The Lesson of Light.


Light helps you to see things.  It is especially valuable in helping you to find your way past obstacles that would be otherwise hidden from your sight.  Walking in the country at night can be hazardous to your health, especially in a country in which streetlights are unknown.


Here is the point.  The disciples are traveling with the One who is the Light of the world.  They do not have to worry about obstacles.  They do not have to worry about anything.


You have the same assurance.  If you are walking in the light of His word and of His Spirit, you have no need to fear.





          11 This He said, and after that He said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, that I may awaken him out of sleep." 12 The disciples therefore said to Him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover." 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of literal sleep.

          14 Then Jesus therefore said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, 15 and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him."

          16 Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him." (John 11:11-16).


Jesus says that it is good that Lazarus has died because it is going to cause the faith of His disciples to grow.  This is going to be important because it will not be too long until these same disciples see Jesus hanging upon a cross and they need to understand that He has the power over life and death.


He wants them to believe.  This miracle will have the result in producing faith in them.  That does not mean they had not previously believed.  They had.  But faith must be continually nourished.  They needed a growing faith.


I love the reaction of Thomas.  He says in effect, “I would rather die with Jesus than to live without Him.”  Thomas did not have a great deal of faith.  What he DID have was commitment.  He had committed to follow Jesus and he was determined to do so, even when he could not see or believe the result to be a positive one.





          17 So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother.

          20 Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him; but Mary still sat in the house. 21 Martha therefore said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 "Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You." (John 11:17-22).


Martha comes out to meet Jesus.  We remember Martha.  She was the practical one.  She was the one who had been distracted with the preparations of the dinner and the details.  She was what we call “a mover and a shaker.”  She was the one who liked to get things done.  She does the same thing here.  She goes to Jesus and she expresses her need and her sorrow and her faith to Jesus.  She says, "Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You."





          23 Jesus said to her, "Your brother shall rise again." 24 Martha said to Him, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."

          25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" 27 She said to Him, "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world." (John 11:23-27).


Martha demonstrates what was the common believe in the resurrection on the last day.  This was not merely a New Testament belief.  It was something that had been taught first in the Old Testament.


She can believe that Lazarus will rise again at the last day, but she has a bit of difficulty believing that he might rise a mere four days after his death.  She is putting all of her hopes into the future.  By contrast, Jesus focuses her faith on the present tense.  The One who has the power to raise men from the dead is standing before her right now.  Martha has been thinking of an event; Jesus directs her attention to a person.  This is a reminder to us that salvation comes, not through a system of theology, but through a person.


The words of Jesus form a chiastic parallel.  It takes us from life to death and back again to life.


I am the resurrection and the life


...shall never die




 he who believes in Me...


...and believes in Me




shall live


everyone who lives...





...even if he dies



Notice the two deaths that are mentioned here.  Though these words as spoken at a cemetery, Jesus is referencing both physical as well as spiritual death.  Even if a person DOES die physically, those who believe in Him shall never die spiritually.  It is because of death’s limitations and because of the temporary quality even of physical death that death has no more sting.  Death cannot break the continuity of eternal life.





          28 And when she had said this, she went away, and called Mary her sister, saying secretly, "The Teacher is here, and is calling for you." 29 And when she heard it, she arose quickly, and was coming to Him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met Him.

          31 The Jews then who were with her in the house, and consoling her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." (John 11:28-32).


It will help us to visualize the scene if we know something of Jewish funeral practices in the ancient world.  Whenever someone of prominence died, people would come and stay for as long as a week to comfort the family.  The burial of the deceased would take place as soon as possible.  The time of grieving that followed would be a time of tears and a time of lament, especially if the death had been an untimely one.


The procession of mourners to and from the tomb would customarily be led by the women, since it was by a woman that sin and death had entered the world.  It is likely this entire procession that comes now to meet Jesus.


There is an interesting contrast to be seen between Mary and Martha in this chapter.




Took the initiative to go and to meet Jesus

She waited at her house until being summoned by Martha

“Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”

"Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."

Adds that Jesus is still able to raise Lazarus from the dead.

No mention of the present ability of Jesus.





          33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her, also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled, 34 and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see."

          35 Jesus wept. 36 And so the Jews were saying, "Behold how He loved him!" 37 But some of them said, "Could not this man, who opened the eyes of him who was blind, have kept this man also from dying?" (John 11:33-37).


The Greek word used here for “wept” is the aorist of dakruo.  It is a hapaxlogomenon.  It is the only time this particular word is used in the New Testament.  A different Greek word is used for all other weeping.  This term is related to the noun dakruon which refers to “tears.”  This points, not merely to the weeping of Jesus but more specifically to the tears of Jesus.





          38 Jesus therefore again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, "Remove the stone." Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days." 40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you, if you believe, you will see the glory of God?" (John 11:38-40).


From a practical standpoint, the instructions of Jesus make no sense.  The body begins to decompose rapidly if not pumped full of embalming chemicals and it had now been four days since the death of Lazarus.


We live in an age where seeing is believing.  People want to see first and then they will believe.  The approach of Jesus is the direct antithesis to this.  He says, “Believe first and then you will see.”


We are called to believe and to obey the commands of the Lord, even when they seem impractical.  We are called to forgive even when there is no guarantee that our forgiveness will be appreciated or reciprocated.  We are called to be sexually pure even when the world is espousing an alternative lifestyle.  We are called to seek the needs of others before our own, even when common sense tells us that we might suffer loss as a result.


If you believe

 You will see the glory of God


This was true of the miracle they were about to see and it is also true of the gospel.  If you will come to Christ in faith, believing in the One whom you cannot see, then there will come a day when you also will see the glory of God.





          41 And so they removed the stone. And Jesus raised His eyes, and said, "Father, I thank Thee that Thou heardest Me. 42  And I knew that Thou hearest Me always; but because of the people standing around I said it, that they may believe that Thou didst send Me." (John 11:41-42).


Jesus prays a prayer to the Father.  This was a regular theme with Jesus.  He was regularly in prayer.  But this prayer is different.  He prays to the Father in a way that is intentionally meant to be heard by those who are standing around Him.  He prays to the Father, showing that He is trusting and relying upon the Father so that the people who are watching and listening will hear His prayer and believe.


Jesus already knew what was going to happen.  He knew that Lazarus was about to be raised from the dead.  But the people did not know.  And so, He prays for this miracle to be accomplished so that, when it takes place, there will be no doubt in anyone’s mind as to what has taken place.





          43 And when He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth." 44 He who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings; and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go." 45 Many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him. (John 11:43-45).


Some have suggested the reason Jesus called out the name Lazarus is because it was not His intention to raise up everyone in the graveyard.  That may or may not be true, but what is true is that there is coming a day when the call will go forth and all those who lie in the dust of the earth will be raised.


Lazarus was still bound hand and foot with wrappings.  He was still wearing the grave clothes.  In a sense, this serves to remind us that Lazarus was still of this mortal body.  He would eventually grow old and die.  Again.  I don’t know this for certain, but I have a feeling that it was not so difficult the second time.


There is coming a day when we will be raised from the death and we will no longer be bound hand and foot with wrappings and we will no longer have this mortal, decaying body.  We will receive a new body — a resurrection body.


This is the climactic moment of the chapter.  Indeed, the entire first half of the Gospel of John has been leading up to this moment.  Throughout these first eleven chapters, we have seen one sign after another.  Each of these signs has grown in intensity.  Each was more striking than the one before.  As the disciples have seen many of the previous signs and believed, now we read that many therefore of the Jews, who had come to Mary and beheld what He had done, believed in Him.


What is the point of this narrative?  It is to show that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of God.  But that is not all.  It also teaches us that, if the Christ who has victory over death lives in you, then that same power should be seen in you.


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