STUDY15: JOHN 11 - THE FINAL MIRACLE

© Rosemary Bardsley 2009

 

In his first ten chapters John has made repeated connections between Jesus and life:

      • In him was life [ 1:4]
      • Whoever believes in him has eternal life [ 3:15 ,16,36].
      • Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life [ 4:14 ].
      • For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it [ 5:15 ].
      • Those who hear his word and believe the one who sent him has eternal life and has already crossed over from death to life [ 5:24 ].
      • A time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself [ 5:25 ,26]
      • You refuse to come to me to have life [ 5:40 ].
      • ...food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you [ 6:27 ].
      • For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world [ 6:33 ].
      • I am the bread of life [ 6:35 . See also 6:40 -51,53-58].
      • Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him [ 7:38 ].
      • He who follows me ... will have the light of life [ 8:12 ].
      • If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death [ 8:51 ].
      • I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full [ 10:10 ].
      • I give them eternal life [ 10:28 ].

Jesus has left us with no doubt: he is the source and giver of life; apart from him there is only death, darkness, incompleteness and condemnation.

 

A. THE DEATH OF LAZARUS – JOHN 11:1-16

Lazarus died.

Given that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days [17,39] it is highly probable that he had already died by the time Jesus got the message. Humanly speaking it was highly dangerous for Jesus to return to Judea as he had only recently escaped the Jews murderous intentions [ 10:39 ; 11:8,16].

From his divine perspective Jesus says:

      • The end of this sickness is not death [4], even though Lazarus does die [14]. [Literally the Greek text reads: ‘This sickness is not towards death’. That is, death is not going to be the outcome of this sickness.]
      • The end of this sickness will be the glory of God and the glory of God’s Son [4]. Literally ‘but concerning the glory of God so that the Son of God should be glorified through it’. This sickness, and death, of Lazarus is all about the glory of God and his Son.
      • Even though the Jews want to kill him, he knows that it is still ‘day’ – it is still the time for him to be about his work [11:9,10]. They cannot touch him, yet. [Note: the term ‘hours of daylight’ refers to a normal working day.]
      • At a spiritual level – while he, the Light of the world, is with them, it is still ‘day’; but for those who do not walk with him it is always ‘night’ and they will always stumble – of such a person the Greek text literally states ‘because the light is not in him’ [verse 10].

So Jesus, the Light of the world, goes back to Judea to do a mighty work, to give to those who live in a spiritual ‘night’ one final irrefutable evidence that he is the Light, the one who disperses and reverses spiritual darkness and death just as surely as he reverses physical death.

‘For your sake,’ he says, ‘I am glad that I was not there.’ Had he been there when Lazarus was sick, and healed him then, they, his disciples, would never have seen what they were about to see. Little do they imagine what he is about to do. All that Thomas can see is death for them all at the hands of the Jews [16].

 

B. THE RAISING OF LAZARUS

John sets the scene for us: Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days [11]. Many Jews are there in Bethany, comforting Mary and Martha. We must remember here that in this Gospel ‘the Jews’ usually express antagonism towards Jesus, although some of them believe.

B.1 A two-fold promise [ 11:25 ,26]

When Martha came out to meet Jesus she expressed her confidence that had been there Lazarus would not have died. This confidence is also expressed by Mary [32], and suggested by some of those present [37]. Martha added and additional confidence: that even now she knows that God will give to Jesus whatever he asks.

Jesus’ reply to Martha’s confidence is ‘Your brother will rise again’, but Martha thinks he is talking about the resurrection at the end of the age [23,24].

Jesus then makes a two-fold statement about all who believe in him:

[1] that those who believe in him and die physically, will continue to live spiritually, and

[2] those who are alive physically and believe in him will never die spiritually.

This promise is based on the fact that Jesus is ‘the resurrection and the life’. In addition to all of the above references in John, let us also recall that Jesus has ‘the power of and endless life’ [Heb. 7:16KJV], and that he later said of himself: ‘I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever.’ [Rev. 1:18].

As Jesus makes this claim he asks Martha ‘do you believe this?’ At first glance her answer seems to be side-stepping the issue. But look again. Her ‘Yes, Lord’ answers his question. Yes. She believes what he has just said. Then she goes beyond that and gives the reason why she believes what he has just said: ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.’ This confession of faith, this acknowledgement of the true identity of Jesus Christ, is the foundation apart from which all additional confessions cannot stand. The promise of life is only for those who believe in him. Martha perceived this subtle but essential distinction between believing in him, and believing in his promises. Throughout our study in John’s Gospel we have seen this same distinction: Jesus calls people to believe in him, to believe that he is the Son of God, sent by the Father into the world. Here he identifies himself as ‘the resurrection and the life’. Martha believes this, she believes that he is indeed the Son of God, and because she believes in him, she believes his promise also.

B.2 The final miracle: the final opportunity to believe

In this final miracle of the raising of Lazarus Jesus validates all of the claims he has made so far, and anticipates both his own resurrection and the spiritual regeneration and physical resurrection of all believers. In and through this trauma of the death of Jesus’ friend God’s purpose is that he, and his Son , be glorified. In God’s divine economy the death of Lazarus has occurred so that the Son of God would be glorified [John 11:4]. And here in this miracle God presents the Jews with one final opportunity to believe in the Christ whom he has sent [ 11:40 -42].

Time and again Jesus has shown by word and action that he has the authority and ability to undo the condemnation and curse of Genesis 3. Time and again he has taught that he is the pivotal figure in that liberation, that redemption, that salvation. Here now is a man who believed in him, and he has died. The curse, the condemnation, have been meted out. In this dying of Lazarus we are each confronted with our own dying, with our own subjection to and involvement in that curse.

Can this man, Jesus of Nazareth, face to face with this inescapable result of our rebellion against our Creator, reverse and undo it here , in its most feared, most final expression? Yes. He can, and he does. Because he is the resurrection, and he is the life. He stands before the grave. His voice commands the one who is dead. By his word he calls forth life out of death. Just as in the original creative act at the beginning of time the word of God summoned into existence all that is, so here the living Word, the Son of God, calls into life him who was dead. He reconstitutes the putrefying flesh; he renews the dehydrating blood; he restores the body fluids; he reverses the cold, hard stiffness of death; he resuscitates the heart and the lungs. All of this and more, simply by the power of his word.

And it is done. Lazarus comes forth out of the grave. And Jesus says: ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’ Jesus is the resurrection and the life, the Son of God, possessed of all the life-giving creative power of the Father, with the authority to recreate, to regenerate, even those who are dead. Even those who are dead in sin. To each one who believes that he is who he is he says: take off the clothes of death, and live. And the creative power of his command effects his purpose.

May we each one with Martha confess: ‘I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.’

B.3 The Jews’ response [ 11:45 -57]

Before Jesus raised Lazarus he both identified and prayed for the impact of the miracle he was about to do: the impact: if people believed they would see the glory of God [40]; the prayer: that people would believe that God sent Jesus [42]. And even here before John reports the impact we see the distressing fact that people would witness this amazing miracle, yet fail to see in it the glory of God, and fail to understand the power and authority of Jesus.

John reports the mixed and sustained affect in the rest of Chapter 11 and into Chapter 12.

Describe the immediate and on-going impact of the raising of Lazarus in these verses.

11:45

11:46

11:47

11:47-48

11:49-52

11:53

11:57

12:10

12:11

12:17

12:18

12:19

 

C. COMMENTS ON JOHN 11:45-57

There are two important perspectives in this section:

C.1 Caiaphas’ prediction of Jesus’ sacrificial, substitutionary death [49-52]

Without knowing it one of Jesus’ enemies serves his cause. In affirming the necessity of Jesus’ death [in his mind in order to save the nation from the Romans], Caiaphas unintentionally predicts the sacrificial sin-bearing death of Jesus that will bring people back to God, and create a new people of God.

C.2 Jesus’ avoidance of premature arrest [54-57]

Again, as we have seen previously, Jesus avoided premature arrest. He had to die on the Passover in fulfilment of its prophetic symbolism. He, the real Passover Lamb, can only die at the time of the Passover.

The many people arriving in Jerusalem for the Passover kept looking for Jesus, wondering whether or not he will turn up at the Feast despite the plans of their leaders to arrest him.

 

D. ABOUT DEATH

Jesus’ raising of Lazarus [along with Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s son] gives us clear affirmation that death is neither God’s original creative purpose for us nor God’s ultimate purpose for us. Death is not good, death is not what we were created for. Death belongs only to the interim abnormal state between Genesis 3 and Revelation 21.

Consider the following scriptures and comment on the issues raised by each:

Text

Comment or question

Your comment

Genesis 2:17

 

Death will enter the world only if humans reject God and choose disobedience.

Genesis 3

Death, and processes that lead to death, entered when humans turned away from God. It is both the judgment of God, but also the automatic effect of rejecting God.

This death is both physical and spiritual.

Romans 5:12-21

 

Death entered the world through one person’s sin. That choice, and its consequences, belongs to and affects us all.

1Corinthians 15:21

 

Death came through a human being.

Deut 30:19-20

 

The choice as to whether we live or die is ours.

Ezekiel 16:30-32

 

God calls people to repent and live. He does not want them to die.

Ezekiel 33:11

 

God wants people to live, not die.

John 11:33-36

Jesus’ emotional reaction in the presence of death indicates not just his love for Lazarus, as the crowd assumed, but his deep divine grief at the presence of death in his world. Death is an intruder. Death is not what he created us for.

1Cor 15:25 -26, 54-57

 

Death is considered the enemy of God, which is conquered by Jesus Christ.

2Timothy 1:10

 

Death is destroyed by Jesus Christ.

Revelation 21:4 [see also 20:14 ]

 

There will be no death in the new heaven and the new earth.