On the Gospel of John 11

John 11  •  20 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Chapter to ends the historical part, properly so called, of John's Gospel. The Lord had left Judea in chapter 4; but the history of His habitual ministry in Galilee is not recorded for us in this Gospel; the Lord, on the contrary, is with the Jews at Jerusalem, presenting to them the new things which are connected with His Person, His death, and His being glorified, in chapters 5 to 7. These communications are terminated by the rejection of His Person, of His testimony, and of His works, which closes the question of their responsibility. Then we have His actual work in Israel, and that which would follow, according to the counsels of God, and by His power in His Person, in chapter 10. Chapters 11 and 12 contain the testimony that God bears to Jesus, and that in every respect, when man rejects Him; then the Lord's declaration, that death is necessary, that He may take His title of Son of man; chapter 13 looks at Him as going back to God again.
Chapter 11 presents Jesus as Son of God: the raising and giving of life to a dead man is the witness of it.
Lazarus, a member of a family beloved of Jesus, was sick. Jesus Himself, away from Jerusalem, had withdrawn to the side of Jordan. The sisters of Lazarus, one of whom, when He frequented the house, had remained sitting at His feet to hear Him, whilst the other was preoccupied with household service, and had complained that she was left alone, sent to tell the Lord that their brother was sick. Jesus answered: " This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby " (v. 4); after this, He remained two days in the place where He was; then He said to His disciples, " Let us go into Judea again." The disciples raise the objection that the Jews, a little before, had sought to kill Him. The answer of the Lord reveals to us the principle which governed all His conduct. During these two days He had received no direction from His Father to go to Bethany, and, in spite of the affection He had for this family, of which He was reminded by the two sisters, He remains there where He was, without stirring. Then, His Father's will being revealed to Him, He goes away without hesitation to the place of danger He had left. The light of day was on His path, the light of His Father's will. There He always walked.
After this, Jesus said to His disciples, " Lazarus, our friend, is fallen asleep; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep " (v. 1). Jesus spoke thus, because death took this character in His eyes, the power of resurrection and of life being in Him. The apostles apply His words literally to natural sleep, upon which He explains them to them. How many things passed in the heart of Jesus which did not come out! For His walk, the will of His Father was enough, and He had the discernment of that will. But His own death was before His eyes, the dominion of death over man, the power of life in Himself, the glory of God manifested in the exercise of this, the fact that He was the Son of God in whom the resurrection and the life had come, the ways of God that brought Him back there, where, in effect, death awaited Him, the affection of the family of the deceased man, which, real as it was, did not for a moment set aside His waiting upon the will of God, His isolation-for His disciples did not understand Him-all the immense consequences of this journey, where the dominion of death over man, the presence of the Resurrection and the Life, the subjection to death of Him who was both one and the other, and that for man-all this weighed upon the Savior's spirit, His spirit alone in the midst of the world! But for Him, I repeat, His Father's will was sufficient to light His path; He needed but this. Invaluable teaching for us, and for our feeble hearts, but which have divine power with them in that path. One does not stumble there. The precious Savior never failed in it, either in life or in death; He led a hidden life with His Father, a life which showed itself in obedience and perfect love for Him, but which made up His life where hatred and death reigned, these, however, only leading Him to the end He was pursuing, namely, perfect obedience to, and the absolute glory of, His Father. Oh! may we be able to follow Him; and, if it be afar off, at least may it be Him that we follow while walking in His footsteps, in the inner life which looks to Him, and in obedience, and seeking what He wills!
" Let us go to him," said Jesus (v. is). He goes to meet death as a power that exercises its dominion over man; and to undergo it Himself, He who was the Resurrection and the Life, in view of our salvation, and for the glory of God. In His walk of obedience down here, the Father always hears Him, and He exercises thus divine power, even to raising a dead man; but He walks in this path of obedience to obey to the end, finding that He could not be heard until the cup, of which He had a holy fear, had been drunk; that cup that He was going to drink, in being abandoned of God in His soul, then heard, doubtless, and glorified, but after having experienced to the end what it was not to be heard.
But whatever may have been the Savior's thoughts and the pressure of circumstances upon His soul, they never overcame Him, nor hindered the exercise of the most perfect love. " I rejoice, on your account, that I was not there " (v. 5). If He was tried by seeming to be wanting in affection for these poor women, not only was He perfectly obeying His Father's will, which is confirmed here, but, in the midst of the deep exercises of His heart, the power of life and all the weight of death meeting in His mind, He rejoiced at the profit that the disciples were about to have from it.
Another testimony of the grace of God is found here, in the fact that the devotedness of Thomas, who, later on, was wanting in faith, is recorded, so that we cannot doubt of his loyalty to Jesus. But let us follow this important history of the resurrection of Lazarus.
The fact of the death of Lazarus was clearly established, by the delay, that God's wisdom had caused in the intervention of the Lord; Lazarus had been four days in the tomb. That which is but obedience to God's will at the moment when it is a question of submitting to it, later on displays the wisdom of God. Jesus had healed many other persons; but here, close to Jerusalem, in the sight of the Jews, the power of life, divine power in Jesus was manifested at the moment when He was about to die, and that in a very striking manner It was a power unknown to all, although He who exercised it, and who was it, had already restored life to the dead. Jesus, then, being come, found that Lazarus had already been four days in the tomb (v. 17). Bethany being near to Jerusalem, many Jews had gone there, to testify their sympathy with the dead man's sisters, and to comfort them; a crowd of witnesses were thus brought upon the spot, to verify the Lord's wonderful work, to spread the report of it in the holy city, and establish the authenticity of it without possible contradiction, and thus bring on the crisis, which was soon to have a solemn result in the death of the Savior, according to the counsels and determinate purpose of God.
The news of the arrival of Jesus reached Bethany, and Martha heard of it, and arose immediately and went to meet the Lord (v. 19, 20). Martha's heart was governed by circumstances, and the tardy arrival of the Lord sets her at once in action. What would Jesus say? What would He do? There was with Martha confidence in Him, but nothing was weighed. Mary was more-serious; she was accustomed to sit at the feet of Jesus, to listen to the divine testimony that issued from His mouth; there was, perhaps, more perplexity in her heart as to why the Lord had not come earlier, but with more reverence for His Person, she was more influenced by the sense of His divine character; she remains quietly in the house waiting until God ordered for her that she should be found with Jesus; her heart full, ready to burst forth, still counted upon Jesus and relied on Him, cast down I have no doubt, but knowing that there was in the Lord a heart more deep, more full of love than her own. Martha, having come to Jesus, is quite ready with a word; she recognizes Him truly as Lord, she believes in Him truly, but with a faith that knows little what He is. " Lord, if thou hadst been here," she says, " my brother would not have died," but still she knew that as Messiah, what Jesus asked of God, God would give Him. It is not here a question of the Father, of the Son who had life in Himself; but Martha had known too well what Jesus had done to suppose that God would not hear Him. All this passage is interesting, for it shows us a soul that believed in Jesus, a soul that loved Him, but a faith-one sees many thus-where all was vague, a faith that recognized in Jesus a Mediator, whom God would hear, but that knew nothing of His Person as come into this world, nor of the quickening power which was found in the Son of God, come into the midst of the scene where death reigned. The Lord's answer raises this question and gives room for the public testimony of God on this subject. " Thy brother shall rise again," said Jesus. Martha, an orthodox Pharisee, answers, " I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day "; she might have said as much of the greatest enemies of Christ. These will certainly rise again, the power of God will effect it.
Martha's answer did not say more of it, did not say one word of what the Savior was. Jesus says, " I am the resurrection and the life " (v. 25). As in the whole Gospel, we have here what Jesus is as light and life, in His Person, as come into the world, in contrast with all the promises made to the Jews, even though they had been justly appreciated. They were scarcely so here, they were at least in a very vague manner.
The Lord speaks here (v. 25, 26) as already present to accomplish the great result of His •power, still hidden in His Person, but of which He was going to give the proof in the resurrection of Lazarus. When He shall exercise this power, he that believeth in Him, even though he be dead, shall live; and whosoever liveth, and believeth in Him, shall never die. Power is in His Person; the present proof of it was found in the resurrection of Lazarus; the accomplishment of it will be when He shall come back to exercise this power in its fullness. In the meantime the thing is realized according to the place that Christ has taken; He raised up Lazarus for life in this world where He was. Now that He is absent, the soul that is quickened by His power goes to Him where He is; when He comes back, He will raise the believing dead in glory; believers who are alive will not die. Evidently we find in this the power of life that is in the Person of the Savior, in contrast with Martha's vague thought, so common among Christians, too, that God will raise up all men at the end of time. The words of the Lord apply only to believers.
Note, that the resurrection here precedes life, for death was before the eyes of Jesus, and weighed upon all hearts. But also Jesus had the power of life to raise from the dead, when death had already exercised its power, and this is what was needed for man over whom death reigned.
The Lord puts the question formally to Martha: " Believest thou this? " Indeed this was the great crucial question, for death reigned over man, and Christ Himself was about to undergo it. Was there anything more powerful in the world, on the part of God? Martha had not been sitting at the feet of Jesus; she does not know how to answer, nor Mary herself: Martha's precipitation, however, had served to bring to light the question which she knew not how to answer, and the state of ignorance in which all hearts were. But the glorious Person of Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, was there. Martha, feeling that the Lord went beyond her spiritual intelligence, makes a correct confession of faith, according to Psa. 2, but altogether general; and feeling that Mary knew the Lord's mind better, she goes to call her, saying, " The Master calleth for thee "; which, though not formally true, expressed that which she felt morally, that which the Savior's question implied; for the " Believest thou this? " was addressed, she felt, not so much to her, as to Mary.
Mary rises at once, and goes to Jesus. Her heart was, the needs of her heart were, there already; her respect for the Lord, and the perplexity of her soul, agitated by the power of death, had kept her in the house until then: but that showed that death weighed upon Mary's soul also; all was subjected to it. Jesus could heal; but death ruled over the living as well as over the deceased. Mary, with a subject heart, though exercised and perplexed, for the Deliverer in whom she trusted had not arrested the evil, comes near to Jesus. Attached to the Lord, who possessed her heart's confidence, a confidence which Martha's words had revived, but having still the weight of death upon her soul, Mary falls down before Him as soon as she sees Him, for her devotedness was connected with deep reverence for the Person of Jesus, a reverence engendered by His word. But Mary, too, was under the weight of death; in that respect she did not go beyond Martha, but sure of the goodness of Jesus, as indeed Martha also had been, she said, " If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died." Death was between her hope and Jesus, since Jesus had not been between Lazarus and death. Death, for her, had shut the door to all hope; Lazarus was no more in the land of the living, there was no longer any one to be healed.
The Jews, seeing that Mary had got up and gone out, followed her, thinking that she was going to the grave to weep there; they but thus add their voice to the testimony rendered to the power of death over the body and the soul, " Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died? " (v. 37). Jesus feels it; He groans and is deeply moved in His spirit, but the love which animates Him and the testimony which He had come to render to the truth, press Him on towards the grave where the body of Lazarus lies. He asks, " Where have ye laid him? " They conduct Him to the sepulcher. There Jesus relieves Himself by tears, which are the witness to His estate as man, and to His sympathy for men and as a man, but also the expression of a heart moved by divine love. It was not however the loss of Lazarus, nor His love for the dead man's sisters that was the cause of those tears, for Jesus was going at that very moment to raise Lazarus. In thinking of the latter, that which He was going to do would have made joy spring up in His heart. No, these tears of the Savior were profound sympathy for the human race crushed under the weight of death, from which it could not raise itself, as also for these tried souls. The Jews thought that the tears of Jesus had their source in His affection for Lazarus: " See how he loved him! " they say. This was very natural, but that which He was about to do forbids us to entertain the like thought. The remark, already quoted, of some amongst them (v. 37) only renews the groans of Jesus, in recalling the thought of the subjection of men, not only to death, but to the dominion of death over their spirits.
This is what caused the Savior's tears to flow. Poor Martha cannot conceal her unbelief, that is to say, the influence that external circumstances exercised over her soul. Lazarus had been in the grave four days already! Corruption must have already begun, she says. God permits that there should not be the slightest doubt, and that the proof of the reality of Lazarus's death should be given; but the glory of God did not depend on the facility of the work, it showed itself in its impossibility. Then they took away the stone which closed the sepulcher where the dead body of Lazarus lay.
Jesus here, as always in this Gospel, attributes the work to the Father's will, and accomplishes the work as heard by Him: His hearing Him being the proof that the Father had sent Him, and bearing witness to it. This is the position that Jesus places Himself in; He does not leave the character of Servant that He had taken; He could do, and did, all that His Father did: but it was as sent of Him to accomplish it, as having made Himself a Servant, whilst being one with the Father. He never glorifies Himself, nor departs from this dependence on His Father, in His course down here. He would have failed in His perfection in doing so; He could not. Also, His mission from heaven, on the part of God, was the chief point for the multitude.
Then with the powerful voice that raises the dead, the voice of the Son of God, He cries, " Lazarus, come forth! " (v. 43) and the dead man came forth, bound with the sheet in which he had been buried, and with his face bound about with a napkin. Jesus commanded those standing by to loose him and let him go.
The effect of this miracle was, that many of the Jews believed in Him; but others, hardened by their prejudices, went away to the Pharisees, and told them what Jesus had done. Israel was laid under the necessity of believing or of showing an incurable hatred against God, and against His will: for, let us remember it, almost under the walls of Jerusalem, and known of all, the God of light and truth showed Himself as the resurrection and the life, and raised from amongst the dead a man whose body was going to corruption. At the powerful word of Him who, nevertheless, owned His being sent from the Father, the dead man buried already four days, comes out alive from the tomb. The power of God entered, even as to the body, into the domain of death, from whose dominion no human being could free himself, that no living being could avoid, that all were condemned to undergo by the power of Satan and by the judgment of God. Here was a Man, who, insisting that He was sent of the Father in grace, calls a dead man from the tomb with authority, and in fact quickens him and raises him. The Son of God was there, overturning the power of Satan, destroying the dominion of death, and setting man free from the state to which he had been subjected by sin: He was there the Son of God, the Resurrection and the Life, presented to man, declared Son of God with power. Would man receive Him?
The news of the wonderful event of the resurrection of Lazarus having reached the ears of the Pharisees, they gathered together to take counsel as to what was to be done. Avowed adversaries of Christ, whatever might happen, only thinking of their national importance, their consciences and hearts remaining alike insensible, they were afraid that the manifestation of such power would awaken the jealousy of the Romans; their hatred against the divine light being greater, however, and having more effect on them than the fear of the Romans, for when occasion arose it did not cost them much to excite disturbances and rebellions. Caiaphas, for the counsels of God are about to be accomplished, declares that it is better that one man should die for the nation, than that it should entirely perish. " Ye know nothing, nor consider that it is profitable for us that one man die for the nation, and that the whole nation perish not " (v. so). God put these words in his mouth; the evangelist adding that Jesus was going to die, not for the nation only, but that He should gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. Enmity against the light come and manifested in grace, and against divine power, which did not now seek to shelter itself, but accomplished the will of God-absolute enmity against the Son of God, in whom these things were realized, and who was manifested by these things-was indeed determined on, and without scruple. From that day, therefore, they consulted together that they might put Him to death (v. 53). It was a diabolical will to put to death Him in whom was life, and in whom God Himself had visited this poor world in grace-a will without any scruple whatever, for they wanted to put Lazarus also to death, a witness too irrefragable of the power that had raised him. Nothing is more frightful, but it is man laid bare.
Jesus therefore walked no longer openly among the Jews; He went away until His hour should be come. They asked each other if He would come to the feast, for the passover of the Jews was near; and the chief priests and the Pharisees had given commandment that if anyone knew where Jesus was, they should make it known, that they might take Him.
What a testimony we have here to the entrance of the power of life into this world of death, of its entrance in grace, and victorious over death, however real this might be! Let us remember that resurrection comes first, for in reality we are all dead. Yet another thing was needed, the death of Him who possessed this life; for we are sinners, and the mind of the flesh in all is enmity against God: redemption was needed as life was needed where death reigned, and reigned through sin. (Compare 1 John 4:9, 109In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. 10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9‑10).) But we possess the testimony of divine power come into the domain of death-how God glorifies Himself-and the Son of God revealed as the one in whom that life is for us; we see, too, who He is who was going to give Himself for us on the cross.