Jesus is the resurrection and the life, the one who has defeated death. God demonstrates his love in this that while the world was still in sin and death, Christ gave it life.
The primary characters of the story are being introduced.
Why do not know the nature of Lazarus’ sickness. But, apparently, the focus of the story is not on Lazarus but his sisters, especially on Mary - the first to be mentioned and later on as the one who anointed Jesus (11:2; 12:3; cf. Luke 10:38–42).
The village of Bethany is on the east side of the Mount of Olives and about 3.2 km from Jerusalem (11:18) along the road to Jericho. It is different from Bethany in 1:28.
The narrator adds a note explaining further the identity of the Bethany family, especially Mary. The Evangelist presume that his listeners and (readers) are familiar with that family.
In the synoptic Gospels we have the account of anointing of Jesus by anonymous woman (Mk 14:3–9; Mt 26:6–13; Luke 7:36–50).
The intimate relationship between Jesus and the Bethany family implied in 11:1–2 is made certain in 11:3.
The sisters do not speak of their brother by his name, Lazarus, but as “the one whom you love”. The entire Gospel has depicted the love that God has in general for the world (3:16), but in this moment and for the first time in the Gospel, an individual is described as being loved by God.
What is the nature of God’s love will be evident at the end of this pericope.
Cf. 9:3. Like in 9:3, Jesus sees the plight of the Bethany family in a different way and through the lens of “purpose” - not death but God’s glory.
What is the ‘intention’ of this sickness?
Just as the first sign was intended to reveal “his glory” (2:11), so also this sign will reveal God’s glory.
In the light of the OT, “glory” is the manifestation of God’s being, nature and presence.
Moreover, the glory of God is connected with the glory of the Son of God. We see again the unity between the Father and the Son.
Now, we are told that Jesus loved the entire family (cf. 3:16). Perhaps, the verse is also intended to explain Jesus’ reaction to the news.
The motive for the “two days” delay is not stated, but Jesus knew what he was doing (6:6), even if we do not understand it (11:21). That is why 11:5 - assuring the reader of Jesus’ love for the entire family is so important.
In the moment of crisis, the “however” of God (11:6) is not to be believed more than the “love” of God (11:5).
Two days passed and Jesus decides to go back to Judea where he experienced opposition (7:1).
For the last time in the Gospel, the disciples address Jesus as “rabbi”. But, the Gospel does not want the reader to believe in a “rabbi” but in “the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31).
The disciples fear for Jesus, but he is not afraid. Jesus is about to bring Lazarus back to this life. But it is only by means of Jesus’ death that true life can ever be given, not just to Lazarus or his sisters, but to the whole world.
While the death of Lazarus will give Jesus the opportunity to prove he loves the Bethany family (11:5), the death of Jesus will give God the opportunity to prove that He loves the whole world (cf. 3:16).
In the ancient world, time was counted generally by the amount of daylight, which for both Jews and Romans was divided into twelve equal “hours” which occupied the whole period between sunrise and sunset.
The illustration therefore depicts the time for a person to move, work, and live. Outside of that time, that is, at night, movement is hindered (even dangerous) and therefore limited.
“He sees the light of the world” - who is Jesus.
The surface meaning: those who walk in the daytime do not stumble against obstacles because the light of the sun shows them where they are going; those who go out in the dark cannot see obstacles in their path and so they stumble.
The deeper meaning: one who shuts his eyes to the true light of the world - Jesus - “has no light in him”.
The light of the sun shines from the sky; the true light shines within (cf. 1 John 2:8).
Having no light in himself describe the internal condition of the person. In this way, the reader is reminded of the state of humanity and the centrality of Jesus as “the light of humanity” (1:4–5).
As long as we see “the light of the world” and have him in us, we are secure whether we go to Judea - a dangerous situation or remain in beyond the Jordan - in a secure place. Wherever we are we are secure having Jesus shining in us.
Jesus now gives the specific reason for their return to Judea.
“Lazarus, our friend” reinforces the image of intimate relationship between Jesus and the Bethany family, but it gives information that even the disciples considered him their friend - so they were also familiar with the family.
“Fallen asleep” a metaphor for death in the ancient world and also in the NT.
The disciples, however, misunderstood Jesus’ statement. But, at the same time, unknowingly they offer a ‘prophecy’ that is going to be fulfilled: “he will [indeed] get better”.
Some indicate that perhaps there was something in Jesus’ voice (11:11) that made them to think that Jesus was talking about mere sleep.
The narrator enters again with a note that guides the reader into correct interpretation of the scene and its meaning.
Lazarus has fallen into the power of death - the common lot of humanity - but the Son of God was given the authority of having life in himself and call to life those he wants (5:25–29; cf. 1:4).
The narrator now informs the reader that Jesus spoke plainly about the real situation of Lazarus.
This is a remarkable statement. Jesus’ rejoicing can only be understood for a perspective of Jesus’ teaching that death is not the end. Where we see a tragedy, Jesus sees God’s glory; where we see the end of everything, Jesus sees a new beginning.
Jesus rejoices for the disciples - the death of Lazarus will not only glorify God but will lead the disciples and many others to truly believe in him.
The tension between death and love (11:4–6) and death and life in 11:11–14 is solved in the person and work of Jesus (cf. Rom 8:38–39).
It is worth noting that this verse offers unparalleled insight into a source of joy for God. With this verse, the reader learns that the faith his disciples place in him is what brings joy to God.
God rejoices when we trust him.
With this verse ends the introduction to this pericope. Thomas is known more for his doubting than for his courageous belief (20:24–29).
Thomas’ statement reminds the reader that the disciples’ original concern was that the place where Lazarus had died and they must now go - Judea - was the same place where the Jews were trying to kill Jesus (11:8).
The courage of Thomas is commanded. Moreover, it is again a ‘prophetic’ statement. Although this time it will be Jesus alone who will die in Judea, but later on all of them with the exception of John - as the tradition have it - will die “with him”.
It is also a powerful encouragement for all Christians - to go when Christ goes even at the cost of one’s own life.
The “four days” are significant. They confirm that Lazarus is truly dead and in the process of decay (11:39).
Some point to a belief attributed to rabbis of later date that the soul of the dead person left the dead permanently from the fourth day onwards - death was then irreversible.
This geographic detail is given to explain the visit of many Jews in 11:19. But it also locate Jesus near Jerusalem where his ministry will find its conclusion.
It was required in the first-century Judaism that the deceased be buried on the day of death (cf. Acts 5:5–6, 10 - the immediate burial) followed by six further days of mourning (for total of seven), known as ‘shiva’ (seven days). During those days the bereaved family would remain at home while others came to supply food and express sympathy.
Thus, those Jews who came fulfil their religious obligations.
It is Martha that goes out, Mary remains at home. This confirms the two sisters’ character and temperament from Luke 10:38–42.
Why did Jesus not go to their house? No clear explanation can be provided, except that it was no time for the mourning.
There are two different interpretation of Martha’s statement: (1) a statement of faith; (2) a rebuke or complaint, but in a polite way. Those who opt for the second option indicate that Martha meant: ‘Lord, you should have been here!’
This statement is not easy to understand either. Here “she knows” that God will give Jesus whatever he asks God, but in 11:39 she apparently does not believe in it.
Does Martha really grasp what the reader knows? Jesus is the Son of God who came to bring dead to life (5:25–26).
On the other hand, some interpret her answer as faith in Jesus, that if He asks God for the life of her brother it will be granted to him (which is rather doubtful - cf. 11:24, 39).
Jesus authoritatively assures her that her brother shall rise. (There is no “again” in Greek).
Jesus’ words are again mistakenly understood (11:11–14). Martha believes that Jesus offers her words of comfort and hope, a belief common in Judaism under the influence of the Pharisees, although not all hold to that belief (cf. Acts 23:8; Mk 12:18–27).
She “knows” (11:22), but again her knowledge does not understand fully who Jesus actually is and what authority he has from the Father.
Jesus was not offering the words of comfort and hope in the final resurrection, but in his person.
Cf. 11:14, Jesus speaks plainly this time to Martha.
This is the fifth of the seven formal “I am”. These seven “I am” statements with a predicate, are descriptions of the person and ministry of Jesus and cumulatively form a detailed picture of Jesus Christ.
It is important to notice that Jesus does not say - I will provide resurrection and life, but “I am the resurrection and the life”. (Think of the Blessed Virgin Mary saying in Lourdes - I am Immaculate Conception).
The combination of “resurrection and life” is also important. “Life” is generally applied to the present, while “resurrection” to the future. But in this case, present and future are brought together.
So now “life” embraces present and future and “resurrection” is not anymore confined to the “last day”.
Thus, what was to the Jews a future hope - see Martha’s statement in 11:24 - to Christians becomes a present reality.
Jesus offers this mode of existence to “the one who believes in me” (cf. 5:25).
Jesus said the same thing in his discourse in Capernaum. “I am the bread of life” (6:51).
If Jesus is the resurrection and the life, he is also somehow “the last day”. What supposed to happen on the last day (6:54), becomes present now - and the resurrection of Lazarus explains that. One would say that “the hour [of the last day] has come”.
In 11:25, Jesus said “even if he dies” he will live. Here, he says “everyone who lives - ὁ ζῶν”.
It is important to realise that the “life” of those who “believe in” Jesus is an entirely different life. It is not just a different degree of life (more life - eternal life) but a different kind of life - a different life altogether.
The Christian life is life without the constrains of death (cf. Heb 2:14–15). The powerlessness of death over the believer is described with the expression “will not not die for age = will never die” (cf. 8:51).
Some scholars made connection between the first part of Jesus’ statement, “I am the resurrection” with 11:25: “he who has faith with me, even if he dies, will live again”. Then they connect the second part of Jesus’ statement, “I am the life” with 11:26: “he who is alive and has faith with me will never die”.
The question addressed to Martha: “do you believe this?” Is also addressed to the reader. Do we really realise who Jesus actually is (read again 1:1–5)? Only if we truly know our Good Shepherd, His power and authority given to Him by the Father can we truly trust Him.
Martha, like Andrew confessed Jesus as the Messiah (1:41), and like Nathanael, as the Son of God (1:49).
Martha’s confession matches nearly word for word the confession that the Gospel desires for all of its readers (see 20:31).
Her addition “who has come into the world” is a core message of the entire Gospel (1:15, 27, 30; 4:25; 6:14; 12:13).
Her confession focuses entirely on the person of Jesus.
The narrative transitions from Martha to Mary.
Martha speaks to Mary “quietly” trying to avoid those visitors. Martha also includes additional information that Jesus was “calling - summoning” Mary.
Mary responds without words and without delay.
We get another piece of information regarding Jesus. Jesus did not come to participate in the ceremonial and religious mourning (cf. Mk 5:38–40). He came to defeat death.
Mary’s departure attracted the attention of those visitors who came to comfort the sisters (11:19). The narrator also explains their interpretation of her departure. They are not aware of the dialogue that just took place between the sisters and they do not know about the presence of Jesus.
The family tombs were often near family residence.
Mary says the exact words that her sister Martha, but unlike Martha, Mary fell at his feet (cf. again Luke 10:30; John 12:3 - Mary at Jesus’ feet).
The narrator provides us again with additional information: both Mary and the Jews were weeping. Did Mary say her complaint with tears? So, it seems.
To Martha’s complaint Jesus responded with words, but to Mary’s complaint with his expressions: “outraged/agitated in spirit and troubled in himself”. The tears of Mary and the others moved him.
It is actually difficult to translate the reaction of Jesus.
What was the response of Jesus?
The term “ἐνεβριμήσατο” expresses anger or displeasure (Mk 14:4) or emotion like “deeply moved/ sighed heavily”. In Mk 3:5 both emotions “anger” and “grief” are felt by Jesus. So perhaps, the best way is to keep both meaning together in this case.
Why did Jesus respond in this manner?
Is Jesus responding to the grief of the sisters (and perhaps the Jews as well) or is he angry at death - and sin as the cause of death? Perhaps both again.
The narrator states that Jesus’ reaction was caused by the tears of Mary and the Jews. The Word [truly] became flesh. Facing death of the one he loved and seeing the grief of those he loved - Jesus is overwhelmed by his human emotion.
But at the same time, being the Son of God, he also saw what the sisters and the Jews were unable to see: spiritual death and the effects of sin.
The tomb of Lazarus was not the only place of death; the whole world was [and is] a tomb-in-waiting.
“Come and see” recalls Jesus’ first words to his disciples in 1:39.
The word “cry” is different than the word used to describe the “weeping” in 11:33. The anger and grief turned into tears. The Son of God weeps with human tears.
By some Jews the “tears” of Jesus are interpreted as Jesus’ love. But, the Jews are unable to understand the love of Christ (Eph 1:4–5; Rom 8:38–39). They will soon see that not even death can separated us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
Others find fault with Jesus. Such a miracle-worker could after all prevent the death of “this man”.
The term describing Jesus’ emotion is the same like in 11:33. In such state Jesus comes to the tomb of Lazarus.
Two details are mentioned regarding the tomb: it was a cave and a stone was placed upon the entrance - to keep animals away from the body.
A stone will be placed also upon the tomb of Jesus.
The distance between the family home and the tomb guarded the family and others from ritual purity.
Now comes the shocking command of Jesus.
“It stinks already”. The implied subject can be “he” - Lazarus or “it” - the corpse of Lazarus. Martha’s statement makes it clear that Lazarus is dead and nothing could be done.
Cf. 11:4. Jesus spoke about God’s glory to his disciples. While speaking to Martha in 11:23–26 Jesus pointed to the fact that He is the resurrection and the life and so has the power and authority to call the dead from their tombs (5:25) - Lazarus will be the first to experience it.
Nobody further objects, no smell of the body is recorded after talking the stone away, instead we have the first prayer of Jesus in the Gospel. It is introduced with the statement that “Jesus lifted his eyes upward” (4:35; 6:5). The last occurrence of this phrase is in 17:1.
Such a posture is intended to reflect the magnitude of the moment and the union between the Father and the Son and the mission they share. The Father sent the Son for this very moment.
Jesus addresses “the Father” (cf. Mt 6:9) - the entire mission of Jesus is grounded in the Father who sent his beloved Son into this world - the Trinitarian aspect is seen again.
Jesus thanks the Father for already having heard him, which implies that Jesus already prayed for Lazarus, but the Evangelist did not record for us such prayer. But perhaps, Jesus’ emotional cry was itself that prayer of supplication.
By recording only the prayer of thanksgiving and not the prayer of supplication, the reader is reminded of the diligent intercession of the Son to the Father on our behalf, even when we do not hear it ourselves (Heb 7:25).
Jesus’ confidence - the Father “always” hears the Son.
This should also give us confidence that the Father also hears “always” our prayers presented to him through the Son and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Moreover, through his prayer Jesus wants to draw to the union of the Father and the Son those standing around him.
We again realise how important is faith in Jesus - that the world realise that the Father sent the Son (cf. 3:16). That is what the Son wants for the whole world - “that the world may believe” (cf. 17:21).
After the thanksgiving prayer, Jesus commands Lazarus to come out. Only God can command such thing!
According to the narrator, Jesus “shouted” at Lazarus. Interestingly, the same term will be used to describe the Jews “shouting” in order to demand Jesus’ life.
When Jesus “shouts” it is for the purpose of life; when the Jews “shout”, it is for the purpose of taking life (cf. 18:40; 19:6, 12, 15).
Jesus speaks to Lazarus as if indeed he was merely “sleeping” (11:11–13).
“An hour” has indeed come (5:25).
And Lazarus did come out! - “the man who had died came out”, the narrator stresses the fact of Lazarus death again.
Lazarus comes out in the clothes of a corpse. This is in contrast to Jesus’ own resurrection, where the clothes of a corpse will be found in the tomb, but the body will not be there (20:5–7).
Lazarus still impeded by these clothes goes towards the direction of the voice. They had to be removed, so Jesus orders to unbind him.
The shout which calls Lazarus back to life is a prophecy of that coming day when all who are in the tomb will hear the same quickening shout and come out. After all, Lazarus is called out to a renewal and continuation of mortal life, whereas those who hear the shout on the last day are called out to resurrection life.
But before resurrection life could be imparted to others, Jesus himself must be raised from the dead.
This “sign”, the climax of the series of “signs” leads many to believe in Jesus. It was indeed the revelation of God’s glory residing in the incarnate Word of God.
Whether their faith reached the level that the Gospel aims for (20:31) is another question (cf. 2:23).
Others informed the Pharisees.
Since the beginning of the Gospel, the “Pharisees” were connected to the authorities in Jerusalem (1:19, 24), and people fear their authority (9:22), and supposed to inform them about Jesus (cf. 11:57).
The “high priests” were members of the leading priestly families, including the captain of the temple and the high priest. They were aligned with the party of the Sadducees that also were part of the council. At that time the Pharisees were the influential minority.
The Sanhedrin was a ruling council or senate. Although it was limited in authority by the Romans, it was the highest authoritative and governing body in the first-century Judaism.
Since the Gospel of John says little about Jesus’ trial, it is possible that this “meeting of the council” was the real trial of Jesus, where the decision was made to solve the Jesus problem.
“What shall we do?” Up to know the little they have done did not work (see 7:13, 30, 45–52; 9:22).
The point is that Jesus is doing “many signs” and the latest and greatest was the resurrection of Lazarus. It draws more and more people to Jesus (cf. 12:9–11).
Notice that they never use the name of Jesus. For them he is “this man” - a sign of disdain they have for Jesus.
They fear two things:
Under the Romans, the Jews enjoyed freedom of their religion (Christians were persecuted), but they were not allowed to have their own king, except Caesar (cf. John 19:20).
“Our place” referring to the city and the temple and “our nation” referring to their semi-autonomous statues of the Jewish nation under the Roman Empire.
But, they are not only concerned for the city, temple and the people, but more selfishly, they worry about losing their own power and status.
The irony is that what they dreaded actually took place, and not because of the presence and activity of Jesus, but because of those whom they chosen over Jesus - Barabas and the zealots (cf. John 18:40).
According to Josephus Caiaphas was high priest for 18 years (Ant. 18.35; 18.95; cf. Luke 3:2). His personal name was Jospeh and he was appointed to that office by the Roman prefect Valerius Gratus in 18 AD. He was son-in-law to Annas (cf. John 18:13), who had been high priest AD 6–15 and for many years thereafter retained considerable authority.
“That year” refers to the year when Jesus was crucified. “That year” was the year of transition from the old covenant and a temporary priesthood to the new covenant, a better covenant and an eternal priesthood, with Jesus Christ, the High Priest (Heb 7:22, 24; 8:1–2).
“You know nothing at all” - in Greek there are three negatives in this statement. It is a rebuke of the Sanhedrin, their apparently blindness to grasp the situation.
The political wisdom of Caiaphas. They statement can mean that the Sanhedrin should direct the attention of Rome away from the nation with its growing messianic fervour toward the one man who is the source of it all - Jesus.
They should present Jesus problem not as a Jewish problem (cf. 19:6), but as a Roman problem (cf. 19:12–13).
The significance of Caiaphas’ statement is so great that the Evangelist offers the reader an interpretation, so as not to miss the point.
The narrator points to the true source of the statement - “he said this not by himself” - and its true nature - “he prophesied”.
Caiaphas’ prophesied involuntarily by virtue of his office. He was not aware, that against his knowledge and intention Jesus would redemptively (on behalf of) die for the nation of Israel (cf. Is 53:11; see also John 6:51; 10:11,14).
Thus what Caiaphas prophesied, Jesus had already predicted or “prophesied” (cf. 10:18).
Some commentators even point out that at “that” moment, Caiaphas the high priest may have been ‘moving his lips’, but it was Jesus the high priest who was ‘doing the speaking’. The temporal high priest is being replaced by the eternal high priest.
The explanation of Caiaphas prophecy continues. Jesus’ saving death is not only for the nation of Israel but for the “children of God” (1:12), who are like sheep (10:16) “scattered” - not yet united into one fold.
The work of Jesus is universal and is intended to gather together both Jews and gentile into one body, the Church. This can be understood as the Israel of God (Gal 6:16).
The Gentile mission is foreshadowed in this passage.
The statement of Caiaphas influenced the whole Sanhedrin and the decision was made: Jesus had to die.
Little did they know that the plan the Jewish authorities made on that day had always been the plan of God (cf. Acts 2:23). But it could only be grasp from the perspective of the resurrection of Jesus.
The Sanhedrin’s resolution was known to Jesus - we are not told how Jesus knew about it. And since Jesus’ “hour” still had not come, so he withdrew from there to Ephraim on the edge of the desert - about 20 km northeast of Jerusalem.
This is the third passover mentioned in the Gospel (2:12, 23; 6:4). We are told about the practice of the Jews to go the Jerusalem before the passover to prepare for it.
The passover required self-purification (see Num 9:6–12; 2 Chron 30:17–18). Jesus did not need purification (cf. 12:1).
Even the Passover feast could not stop the people seeking Jesus. The Evangelist places the people in the temple apparently looking for him to appear. But at the same they doubt whether he would appear. The danger was too great. “Surely he is not coming to the Feast?”
Here is the reason for their doubt. Since the authorities obliged the people to report the presence of Jesus so they could arrest him, how could he come then for the Feast?
In the light of the decision of the Sanhedrin, Jesus wa now a wanted criminal.
The word “order” is the same used in 10:18.
With these verses (11:55–57), the Evangelist prepares the reader for the next events that will take place in Jerusalem during that Passover. But, that passover of year 30 AD would be unique - the true Lamb of God will be offered on the cross for the salvation of the world.
The people are seeking Jesus, and the authorities are also seeking Jesus.
The authorities devised a plan, but God has also the plan.