This chapter is long. We would suggest you only read enough verses from this chapter to listen to Jesus and journal.
Death is the evidence that all people carry in their body of the separation originally made between heaven and earth. Just as all creation died on the day of Adam and Eve's sin, in the same way, the body was separated from the Spirit of God and began its journey of wasting away. The raising of Lazarus is the miracle chosen by God to prove that Christ is the resurrection and the life. Jesus was raised as the seed, the beginning of the new creation. Lazarus was God's pre-evidence that Jesus is and was the resurrection and life. Jesus' resurrection would be, for Martha and Mary and the whole world, the final proof that Jesus is God, having been given the power of an indestructible life.
Lazarus Is Ill (1-16)
These next two chapters oddly are the only places in the entire New Testament where Lazarus is mentioned. Lazarus is mentioned in Luke 16 but undoubtedly the story is an allegory, even though Lazarus' name is used specifically.
Lazarus lived in Bethany, just opposite and two miles from Jerusalem on the east side of Mount Olives.
Bethany means "house of poor" and had a reputation of being a sort of hospice for the sick and hurting. Lazarus lived with his sisters Mary and Martha, both of whom deeply loved Jesus and whose home seemed to have hosted Jesus often when He was in Judea. Mary was well known all over the world for anointing Jesus' feet with perfume and wiping it with her hair. The event was so famous that by the writing of John's Gospel at the end of the century, John points out here that this Mary is the same woman who poured out such costly and extravagant love on Jesus. She performed her lavish expression in presence of abject poverty and pain (1-2).
The two sisters sent word to Jesus concerning their brother being deathly ill, assuming He would come immediately and heal him due to His great love for Him (3).
Jesus told the messengers to tell Mary and Martha not to worry; the illness would not lead to a permanent physical death. Jesus next told the messenger to tell the sisters that their brother's illness was going to bring glory to God and the Father was going to bring glory to the Son through his illness (4).
John then revealed to his readers that Jesus' love for the three siblings was intense (5).
When Jesus heard Lazarus was still ill and had not died, he decided to stay two days longer where He was. Some believe Jesus was praying, contemplating what it would mean to go back to Judea and heal Lazarus. His healing of Lazarus would start the clock ticking. The event would be too much for those with religious power to overlook and ignore. His life would be on the direct and immediate path to the hour for which He had come to earth. Jesus was not mentioning the news of Lazarus to His disciples. Jesus was praying, praying about His return and all it would set off (6).
After those two days, having given Lazarus just enough time to die, having given Himself enough time to pray and steady His heart, Jesus informed His disciples that they were going to return right into the teeth of peril—He was going to go back to Judea (7).
The disciples reminded Jesus of the two occasions when He was nearly stoned. They reasoned together and tried to reason with Jesus that another trip into the region would be suicide (8).
Jesus then explained to His disciples why it would be safe for "them" to go to Judea. There are, generally speaking, twelve hours of daylight, twelve hours to do work. Jesus pointed out that if they walk in God's light, the light He shines on the world, the light of the Father revealing what He wants done, then they will not stumble into peril, danger, or even snares. No matter who wants to stone them, they will ultimately be safe if they walk in the light of God's will.
Conversely, and this is implied by what Jesus was saying, if they walk in darkness, doing their own work and living for their own purposes, then perils, dangers, and snares await their stumbling feet. Jesus here is teaching His disciples an essential lesson: if you steer your course in the light of your own darkened understanding, you will stumble. If you follow, even though it will mean seasons of uncertainty, you will end up in the right place (9-10).
Jesus then announced to the disciples for the first time that Lazarus had fallen “asleep" and He was going to Judea to wake him up (11).
The disciples did not pick up on how Jesus wanted them to view the death of His followers in the future, as merely "sleeping" (Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18).
The disciples assumed Jesus to mean Lazarus was actually sleeping and if sleeping, he would in time and as he rested, naturally get better. The disciples did not want Jesus to go visit Lazarus, putting His life in grave danger for a person who could get better over time. Jesus was talking about one thing and His disciples were thinking He meant another. This was a common problem between Christ and the twelve (12-13).
Jesus then told them plainly that Lazarus had died. Next, Jesus announced that He was glad He had not been there so they would come into a whole new dimension of allegiant faith. Once Jesus had captured His disciples' attention by layering the entire event with mystery—there is something much bigger going on here—He led them to the hometown of Lazarus (14-15).
Few remember this little verse where Thomas says, “Let's go with, let's die with, let's remain faithful." Thomas is remembered as the doubter, but here Thomas was tenacious, the only one trudging ahead, ready for whatever but not willing to abandon Jesus. Maybe Thomas should be more known for being tenacious.
Jesus' Ministry to Martha (17-27)
By the time Jesus arrived at Lazarus’ tomb, Lazarus was four days’ dead. Due to rapid decomposition of dead bodies, Lazarus had been buried immediately (17). By the time Jesus arrived, the little town of hospice care was filled with Jews from the city who were comforting and consoling the grieving sisters. Whatever Jesus was about to do was going to have wildfire power as the news would be spread back to Jerusalem (18-19).
Martha, the active sister, went to meet Jesus while Mary, the contemplative sister, remained seated and reflective. Martha looked to the past and played the “if” game: "if only You had...” Then, with tattered faith, she admitted that even now the Father would do whatever He asked for. This was not some moment of hope in the resurrection; this was just a flash of honest surrender. Martha was saying, “I want to go back in time and I know we can't, but I still know God will respond to Your prayers and help us out in some way" (20-22).
Jesus was about to teach an amazing lesson. No one, Martha and Mary included, ever needed go back in time. Instead, the future eternity was coming into the now. Whenever tragedy strikes, Jesus does not take us back in time, Jesus brings eternity into our now—the God future into the present.
Jesus proclaimed, “Your brother will arise again." Martha agreed that in the promised new world to come, the one mentioned in places like Daniel 12 and Isaiah 65-66, the new heavens and earth, there would be a resurrection—she believed it (23-24).
Then Jesus made the incredible claim—the mind-blowing, you’re-not-going-to-believe-it reality: the future is here, resurrection is here, and resurrection is not a state of being. Jesus boldly proclaimed the resurrection was not merely an immortal body; the resurrection is a Person. The resurrection is Jesus. He is the "I AM" of the resurrection. Those of allegiant faith may lose their present body, but they will live on in the future, in the resurrection, in Jesus and in His resurrection body prepared for them. They will never die once the future has fully come.
Then Jesus stated a truth: those who live in Jesus by putting their allegiant faith in Christ would never ever die. Jesus questioned Mary, “Do you believe this? Is this promise where you are putting your allegiant faith?" (25-26)
Martha then declared her allegiant faith; she was allegiant to Jesus as the Christ, as the Son of God, and as the One coming into the world. This did not necessarily mean she understood Jesus to be God at this time but she understood that she was being called by Jesus to put her allegiant faith in Christ as God's sent and coming King (27).
Jesus’ Ministry to Mary (28-37)
Jesus then sent Martha to invite Mary to come and see Jesus in private (28).
Once Mary heard Jesus wanted a private word with her, she went running. Those in the room with her followed, supposing she was headed for the tomb for some more grieving. This was going to make a private meeting with Jesus impossible (29). Jesus was still not at the little town yet but had remained where Martha had met Him.
Mary came running, throwing herself at Jesus' feet. Mary's response was the same as her sister’s: "if only," looking to the past (30-32).
When Jesus saw all the human pain and grief, the Word made flesh, the very living personal principle and reason for the existence of all creation, began to weep. This is a huge watershed moment. For anyone wanting to know how the universe was designed to function and work, right here is a great insight. The world was made to grieve when another is in pain.
Jesus was "deeply moved" or "groaning in spirit" and "greatly troubled" or "angered." Some wonder, why was Jesus angry? He was angry because the devil had destroyed His glorious creation and unleashed such misery on all He loved. Jesus then wanted to know where they had buried Lazarus. They took Jesus to the site, and once there He broke down and wept.
This was God in Body, expressing how He handles our pain, even knowing resurrection is coming. The Father feels with us. His love for Lazarus was obvious to all. Jesus, the One Who ordered the universe, did not take time to fix the problem first but He hurt first, for that is how God's world works. Jesus weeps profusely over the consequence of our sin (33-36).
As others looked on, they wondered why the miracle worker Who had healed others was not able to keep His friend alive. This is the same question plaguing people today. Why does God do one thing in one place and another somewhere else?
Jesus has been giving a lesson all through John's Gospel: in every situation, future eternity breaks into the now so God's love and presence can connect and save the hearts of people (37).
Jesus Raises Lazarus (38-44)
Jesus approached the tomb still deeply moved and emotionally overwhelmed. The tomb was cut into some limestone with rock placed in front of it (38).
Jesus commanded the stone which stood at the door of the tomb to be removed. Martha, not wishing to smell the death of her brother, objected (39). Jesus reminded Martha that an allegiant faith would lead to seeing God's own glory revealed. Martha allowed the stone to be removed. Jesus then, right before the stone was removed, lifted His eyes and prayed, thanking the Father for hearing the prayers He had been praying, the prayers He had prayed the two days Lazarus had been dying, the two days before He returned to Judea. Likely the prayer heard by the Father was the one Jesus prayed asking for Lazarus' body to not putrefy and decompose but to be kept for resurrection. Jesus continued to pray, telling the Father that He was thanking Him publicly to put honor where honor should be, on the Father. Those gathered were about to witness a resurrection and Jesus wanted to make it clear who was behind the resurrection of the dead.
The tomb was opened and everyone realized there was no smell. Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ordering Lazarus out of the tomb.
Lazarus obeyed the voice of Jesus and came out wrapped up in grave clothes. Jesus commanded him to be unbound (39-44).
One Too Many Miracles (45-53)
The reviews were mixed. Some placed their allegiant faith in Jesus, and some went straight to the Pharisees and tattled (45-46).
The Pharisees convened their political and religious caucus, and once and for all they were going to answer the question: what was to happen with a person who performed such an overwhelming amount of miracles? (48)
Their present tactics were having no effect on Jesus; His popularity was growing and their disapproval, counter-teaching, spreading of falsehoods, even excommunication, were not slowing the Jesus movement down. They needed a more severe strategy for dealing with the Jesus problem.
To leave Jesus unchecked at this point, the Pharisees surmised, was going to lead to the Romans stepping in and removing them from leadership and essentially turning their nation into something different. They could not risk a revolution at any level. The Jesus revolution could weaken their sense of importance and their grip on manipulation. They all feared where it was leading.
Yes, those reading the Gospel of John know there was no need for such paranoia. Jesus was teaching nothing which would cause an armed revolution. Those in power were overly suspicious and by nature insecure.
The story turns here as John adds a prophetic word from the lips of a Jewish High Priest, Caiaphas.
The group was having a hard time justifying what Jesus was doing as worthy of execution.
Caiaphas scolded the counsel for not comprehending what was necessary. Better for one man to die for the whole nation than the whole nation perish. They need no longer be squeamish about taking an innocent life; they were doing so to save their nation (49-50).
John then adds that Caiaphas did not come up with this line of reasoning but it was put in his head by the Father so that Caiaphas, as His last High Priest after the Mosaic order, could give a prophecy which could also be taken to be totally true. Jesus, the true sacrifice, saves the entire world by gathering them up as one in Him; Caiaphas had no idea what God was really having him say (52).
The decision was made, courage was found, and from that moment on the Pharisees determined to do the unthinkable and have an innocent man executed to save their way of life (53).
Jesus Escapes (54-57)
Jesus no longer walked in the open; He went up into a town in Ephraim and stayed with His disciples (54).
Just before the Passover Feast, Jews came to Jerusalem from places where Jesus had been ministering, hoping to find Him. Jesus' habit had been to attend the feast and His absence seemed conspicuous to them, so they wondered if Jesus would sit this one out. It had become common knowledge that the chief priests and Pharisees had determined to arrest Jesus, giving orders that anyone who knew His whereabouts should snitch. There was likely a reward associated with their order, an order which was going to finally fall on the ears and into the heart of Judas (55-57).