Notes on John 11
When Lazarus fell sick,
Jesus was far away in Batanea (see the notes at 1:28). During His last time in
This miracle as intended and implemented by God would (like 9:4 & 2:11) put the glory of God on display and build the faith of His own. Signs are more than miracles; to be a sign it must signify and show something beyond the sign itself. Jesus will say He is the resurrection and the life; then He will act as One Who is both. Earlier, He said He was the bread of life and the water of life. In John 11 the Lord did not give Lazarus something symbolic of life (such as bread or water) but life itself.
11:1-6 The News that Lazarus Was Sick
in this Gospel is Lazarus mentioned. Luke 10:38-42 mentions his sisters.
John wrote as if his readers already know that Mary was the one who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. There are a number of Mary’s in the Gospels, so the apostle makes clear which one is related to Lazarus. The name “Mary” is from the Hebrew name Miriam, the sister of Moses (Numbers 26:59). Christians relating the story of Jesus, often speak of the Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet (Mark 14:9).
11:2,3 The sisters were close
friends of Jesus. Jesus had withdrawn to a safer place (10:40) a long distance
away, yet they knew where to send word to Him about Lazarus being sick. Probably
very few in
Married people ought not to fall into a pattern of social contact limited to other married couples so that single brothers and sisters are often left to fellowship only among themselves. God has many who will be single all their lives. Further, Jesus’ close friendship was not limited by gender; He loved all three, the sisters and the brother (v.5). It was natural for the sisters when sending word to Him to refer to Lazarus as “the one You love”. (This is written by the apostle who referred to himself in 13:23 as one Jesus loved.)
11:4-6 When the news of Lazarus’ sickness arrived, Lazarus was still alive. After two days Jesus said he had died (vv.11-14). The sisters obviously wanted Jesus to come and heal Lazarus. God had a different and more wonderful plan. The healing of the man born blind was so that “the works of God would be displayed in him” (9:3). For such works of God to be evident, the man had to be born blind! Lazarus’ death was necessary for the glory of God to be revealed. (See also v.40.)
11:6 “Yet when He heard that
Lazarus was sick …” (v.6). It is better to translate this as “When therefore He heard … ”
or as the ESV does below. It is not that Jesus did not care; John said in v.5
that Jesus loved them! There is a specific reason to delay going to
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. (John 11:5 & 6, ESV)
According to v.15, the delay also benefited the disciples. The Lord said He was glad for their sake that He was not there. This indicates that had He been there, He would have healed Lazarus, but they then would not have seen the sign showing Him as the Resurrection and the Life. Raising Lazarus would encourage their faith.
The will of the Father had decided Jesus’ delay. The way the Lord would use this sickness had large consequences in the history of redemption. Raising Lazarus after his death had been so well established in the community that it provoked the Sanhedrin to call a special meeting. In it they decided to put Jesus to death (11:45-57). That death was the salvation of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary! Furthermore, the sign related to the death of Lazarus made more clear to them (and to us as well) that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. God has chosen to be revealed in more than affirmations. He wanted the action (known to us only through the words of Scripture) of raising the dead man to be a visible acting out of the power Christ will use again at His coming! (1Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:42,43).
11:7-16 The Return to
11:7,8 Two days after Jesus learned of Lazarus’ sickness,
Lazarus died. Jesus knew this supernaturally. The long journey by foot back
from Batanea near the Sea of Galilee to the east of the
raises the matter of danger to Jesus’ life. At His recent time in
11:9,10 The Lord’s analogy is that the world has the sun in the sky so that men
may work in daylight. When Jesus refers to light as the kind the world has,
that indicates that it is not the light by which He makes His decisions. He
operated under the guidance of a different light – the will of His Father. It was
His food to do His Father’s will (4:34). Hours before His death, He would say
to the Father that He has accomplished the work (note 4:34 again!) the Father had
assigned to Him (17:4). Jesus being stoned and dying by a way that was not
being lifted up on the cross (3:14; 12:32,33) was not the Father’s will, so
Jesus resisted it. But going to
To say there are twelve hours of daylight is a way to say
there is still more time for Him to work. In a similar situation in Luke
13:32-33, Jesus announced that He would keep doing what He was doing, in spite
of a death threat from Herod. In John 9:4 the Lord stressed that it was still
daylight and the work must continue. Danger does not decide our lives. He had
authority to lay down His life. The passions of wicked men would simply become
the tool the Lord would use to accomplish His purpose (Acts 4;27,28). As one
present for all of this discussion, Judas knew that the intent of those wanting
to arrest Jesus was murder. Knowing that, he still took Jesus’ enemies to where
they could find Him! There was enough light left to go to
11:11-14 Waking up Lazarus
One way believers in the living Savior express faith is in
our attitude to death. Death is an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26) that brings
suffering and sorrow. It is the result of sin (Romans 5:12), yet salvation
includes even a body that has died. Thus we speak of death as sleep. The Lord
Jesus spoke this way. To Him it is as sleep because He can and will waken the
sleeping person. Going to
11:16 Courageous Thomas
Many remember Thomas as “Doubting Thomas”. Here he shows
courage and willingness to die like Peter in 13:36. (Usually it is Peter who
speaks up for the disciples.) Thomas’ name Didymus means “Twin”; note the
repetition in the name (Di Dy). When he said, “let us … die with Him,” that
reflects the kind of danger ahead. By going to
Lazarus had been in his tomb for four days. Jesus found this to be the case. One of the great mysteries about Christ is that He became fully man, and remained at all times fully God. He could know supernaturally that Lazarus had died (v.11) though He was not there. He could see what Nathanael was doing under the fig tree (1:48-50). It is too deep for us to grasp how Jesus’ infinite divine nature and His limited human nature functioned in one Person. So like the Psalmist in Psalm 131, we humbly accept truth about Christ, admitting our limitations in understanding. At all times we must hold with tenacity to all revealed truths about Christ, even when we do not know how to connect them.
The four days is significant because the Jews had their own odd notions about death. They felt that the spirit stayed around the body for three days and that death after four days was too late for a return to life. (We learn such things from those who research those times.)
11:21-27 The Meeting with Martha
John wrote in concise form not telling how Martha knew Jesus was nearby. She alone went to meet Him. The sisters had sent word to Jesus (v.3). They naturally hoped He would come right away and save His friend. (It is interesting that the verb to heal in Greek and the verb for save are the same word.) She stated the fact that if He had been there, Lazarus would not have died. She was not rebuking the Lord. We are allowed to express how the Lord’s decisions affect us while we groan under some of His decisions. (See Psalms 6, 35, 102 and many more.) The Father did not arrange a situation where Jesus would appear callous in refusing to heal Lazarus. God had simply arranged that Jesus would not be there, and Jesus understanding that was glad (v.15).
Martha knew that Jesus would have prevented her brother’s death, and she knew that any request He might make of God the Father would be granted. There is no such thing as Jesus interceding and the Father not granting all that He asks! This is foundational to the Bible’s doctrine of the intercession of Christ. Martha knew this but she did not expect to have her brother back that very day, as v.39 makes clear.
11:23-26 The Lord said her brother would rise again. Martha believed this in the way any orthodox Jew would. It would happen on the last day. (In my opinion, that should make us cautious about thinking there may be multiple resurrections on different “last days”. Martha said “last day” since there is only one.)
11:26 Martha had her theology correct. There will be a resurrection that includes the physical body of her dead brother. At earlier times, distracted Martha gave less attention to sitting at Jesus’ feet to learn from His instruction (Luke 10:41,42). When the reality of death removed all other concerns, she really paid attention. The Lord turned the conversation from whether or not she believed in what would happen, to who makes it happen – thus Jesus’ famous “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
Standing before Martha was the Son of God, God in the
flesh. Whatever the Father does the Son also does (5:19). Since the Father
raises the dead and gives them life, the Son likewise gives life to whom He
wishes (5:21). He can do this when He wishes as well, as in the case of Jairus’
daughter (Mark 5:21-43) and the young man in Nain (Luke 7:11-17). The news from
Nain had spread to
Jesus’ words are far more personal than the doctrine Martha had just confessed. He said I and spoke of those who believe in ME. The future resurrection is not simply rising from the grave, it will be the appearance of the Lord Himself with His shout or loud command (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Jesus calling with a loud voice in v.43 is an intentional parallel to what He will do in the last day when the dead hear His voice (5:28,29).
The Lord asserts two things; He is both resurrection and life. This does not mean simply resurrection to a later life with nothing more now. The one who believes in Him possesses eternal life already. Such a person will never die in the sense of losing that eternal life. Unless the Lord comes while we are alive, all who believe will still die physically. Such death cannot interrupt the eternal life of the believer, because “he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.” Our Lord is personally both resurrection and life. He has promised both and no believer can be deprived of them. In John 6, Jesus will lose none the Father has given Him. In John 10 no one can snatch them from Him, and in John 11 every believer will live even if he dies! Those who belong to Christ are safe.
11:26,27 Martha believed the truth that such things are guaranteed to God’s people. Jesus then asked if she believed the truth as He just stated it, namely that life and resurrection are His to give. She linked the truth He stated with her clear confession of Who He is, the Christ, the Son of God Who was to come into the world (see Psalm 118:26). The Apostle John wanted this reported to his readers because that is the chief point of his Gospel in 20:30,31. By writing this Gospel, John was simply promoting the message Christ gave of Himself in 11:25,26.
Jesus was always the Son of God, so He is fully the eternal image of the Father. As One sent, the One Who came into the world in our human flesh, Jesus is the Christ with the assigned mission to be the Redeemer of God’s people. To John it is so crucial that people understand Who Christ is and what He did. His coming into this world is a matter of history. Without it there is no Christian faith, no gospel; any belief that omits it is false. We believe at a specific time and for a specific duration that the Son of God as the Messiah (or the Christ) was in the world. Martha’s belief was based on facts of history and truths of doctrine, and her trust was in the One she confessed.
11:28-32 It is valuable to have a record of this conversation, the only one in the four Gospels with Martha alone. Mary is a woman noted for her devotion to Christ, yet it was Martha who just made this clear confession.
Martha carried to Mary the invitation from Christ for her to come to Him. The Lord Jesus is consistent in His love for these His friends. He did not come only to wake up Lazarus, but to restore him to his family. Mary’s fast exit from the house was not understood by those present to comfort, thus they followed and came to the area where the Lord was. The account does not show Jesus heading to the house of Mary & Martha, but the meeting was outside the village. Since Jesus asked where Lazarus was laid (v.34), this meant that Mary, Martha and Jesus had those comforters follow to Lazarus’ tomb AND thus more became witnesses of his resurrection. Had Mary and Martha met Christ together earlier and gone directly to the tomb, the number of witnesses would have been reduced.
That Christ is called the Teacher reveals that even in His resting in their home, He was not taking a break from His assignment to do the Father’s work. He taught, and Mary especially was eager to learn from Him. Since teaching was an essential aspect of the Messiah’s ministry (see 4:25 and Isaiah 50:4), the content taught is highly treasured in our faith. To treat doctrine with disdain (a common response today) is to miss that Biblical doctrine is simply the teaching of Christ the Teacher! For this Mary had a great appetite.
Mary’s words were the same as Martha’s about the difference the presence of Christ would have made. It was like Mary, who would wash Jesus’ feet and dry them with her hair, that she would fall at His feet.
11:33 & 38 See below the Appendix 11A: Jesus’ Emotion at the Grave of Lazarus. The difficulty here is first a matter of translation to establish the kind of emotion, and secondly, what it was that caused that kind.
No one expected a resurrection! It would be odd for Christ, in the setting of the recent death of His dear friend, to proclaim that He is the resurrection and the life, and then to give Martha and Mary only His words with no action to accompany them. There was not even an acknowledgment by either sister of a hypothetical possibility that He might raise Lazarus right away if He chose to do so. He had been dead for four days.
11:32-37 The kind of mourning in that culture is shown in the word for weeping. Mary and those with her may have been wailing. When Jesus wept the word is different; it is a word for shedding tears.
The observation that Jesus loved Lazarus is accurate. The
conclusion that He could have prevented the death is right. The memory of
healing the man born blind (John 9) remained in the consciousness of the people
11:38-40 See Appendix 11A below. The objection by Martha is revealing. The Lord took a step closer to Lazarus’ resurrection, yet Martha, at that moment thinking like an unbeliever, made an objection that showed no expectation of life for Lazarus. Her faith was not consistent with the truth that her Lord was the Resurrection and the Life, especially since He had indicated His intention to raise Lazarus before the Last Day.
The Lord either said expressly that she would see the glory of God or said things that made that clear earlier. (We never seem to have entire conversations reported in any of the Gospels.) Because God is a pardoning God (Isaiah 55:7), it is His glory to forgive quickly. It is also the glory of God in a new creation to undo the death man’s sin has brought. It is the decision of God to wait till the Coming of Christ to raise His children to immortal life, but Christ gave a foretaste of that day in the case of Lazarus, even though poor Lazarus would die again.
11:41-42 Jesus’ prayer This was not the beginning of a prayer for Lazarus. V.41 implies that this had been an earlier matter between the Father and the Son, because the Father had heard Jesus. Martha was right that whatever Christ would ask, the Father would do (v.22). By recording this theme twice, John is eager that this point should have our attention. Anything Jesus asks for He receives. He had asked for the life of Lazarus. By making public the content of His prayer, Christ shows Himself to be the effective Intercessor (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34). The words to His Father “You always hear me” are a wonderful way to grasp the intercession of Christ for His people. The answers Jesus has merited for us are as certain as the resurrection of Lazarus. The benefit to those who heard was that they should see that He has come from the Father and can speak to Him on behalf of His people. If we can believe Christ came from God, then we can believe everything else about Him!
11:43-44 Christ called for Lazarus to come out. He said this in a loud voice. (See the notes at v.26.) In Greek the order is feet and hands, but in English we tend to say “hands and feet”. The feet have a certain priority here; they affect Lazarus walking. Maybe Lazarus came out hopping with his feet tied together.
This ends this part of the story. The Bible is God’s Word, and John under the Holy Spirit, did not do what so many journalists today would do. They would ask what it was like at the moment of dying, what it was like when he was dead for four days, and all the human interest angles they could think up. This sign was intended to reveal the glory of God in the ministry of Christ. The Bible was not written to satisfy our curiosity, so the Apostle John does not spoil the sign by deflecting attention away from Christ.
Lazarus had a different kind of resurrection. He returned to mortal life. When Christ comes again, His people will rise to eternal physical life, unlike Lazarus, never to die again. The resurrection of Lazarus was a foretaste of what was to come. It was symbolic of Jesus’ future conquest of death for Himself and His people. (Note Ephesians 1:16-21.) In John 10:18 the Lord said He would take up His life again. In John 11 He gave life back to Lazarus. God was glorified in the resurrection of Lazarus (v.4). It has provided us a limited, yet powerful, picture of the future deliverance from death, evil, Satan, and all the consequences of sin.
11:48 Just how John ever knew to be able to record the
insider information we find in this section, we do not know for sure, except
that he was known to the high priest! (See 18:15.) Possibly Nicodemus was the
source. Almost all the rulers were certain that Jesus was not the Messiah. Some
thought, perhaps sincerely, that the danger was real that the Romans might come
to crush a messianic movement if crowds followed Jesus, proclaiming Him as King
of the Jews. The Romans had installed Herod (by this time long dead) and
Herod’s sons as quasi-Jewish rulers, loyal to
11:49-53 They seemed to agree on a double threat: 1.) People believing in Jesus were not following them, and 2.) they supposed the Romans would react in a way that also endangered them. Obviously, they had selfish interests to protect. Caiaphas’ simple solution was to kill the one man who was such a danger to them. The Pharisees should have objected that that would be breaking the law – something Jesus pointed out in 7:19. They did not; they agreed with Caiaphas. Caiaphas proposed a small act that would bring a huge benefit. It would be better “for you,” a possible way John shows the self-interest in the Sanhedrin’s action – better that one should die and not the nation. In this way he suggested a “small” twisting of obedience to God with a major good result. (Killing the Son of God is not small.)
stating it as he did, Caiaphas the high priest of
did not want his readers to think the death of Christ was for Jews only, the
way the sacrifices of the OT were for
12 gives the real reason the religious authorities had for putting Jesus to
death. Later they would need some explanation they could give to the public.
They said it was for blasphemy, something not mentioned in the deliberations of
the Sanhedrin in John 11. The charge of blasphemy suggests to the public that
their great concern was to defend the Name of God. However, what really
mattered the most to them was their privileged role as leaders. If they were
concerned about the glory of God, they would have refused to break His sacred
commandment about murder. In John 11 they decided to put Him to death; later
they were looking for how to do it (Luke 22:2). They had a meeting in the
That Jesus wept is one of the familiar facts of Jesus’ life on earth. That skilful Bible teachers have many different interpretations of this section of John 11 is less well known. Likewise, credible translations differ.
When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus wept.
So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?" Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days." Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" John 11:31-40 ESV
 Sometimes Bible teachers draw a great distinction between two Greek verbs for love, as if agapao were a considerably different from phileo. There seems to be a difference in how they are used in John 21. Agapao is used more in the NT. Here in John 11 phileo is used in v.3 and agapao in v.5. This shows that they can be virtually interchangeable in the Gospel of John. In John 5:20 phileo is used for the love of the Father for Christ. This should make clear that phileo is not a word with less quality than agapao. It is also used of the love of the Father for the disciples because they have loved Christ (16:27). Greek is a language we do not speak, and it is difficult to catch many nuances of an old language. There must be some difference in the words, but I hope I have given sufficient reason to restrain making a sharp distinction that is not there.
 V.49 says Caiaphas was high Priest that year. The high priest was to serve till his death. Caiaphas was high priest from 18-36 AD.
 John 11:33 ᾿Ιησοῦς οὖν ὡς εἶδεν αὐτὴν κλαίουσαν καὶ τοὺς συνελθόντας αὐτῇ ᾿Ιουδαίους κλαίοντας, ἐνεβριμήσατo τῷ πνεύματι καὶ ἐτάραξεν ἑαυτόν,
5 John 11:38 ᾿Ιησοῦς οὖν, πάλιν ἐμβριμώμενος ἐν ἑαυτῷ,
 From Strong’s concordance: βριμάομαι brimaomai (to snort with anger); to have indignation on, that is, (transitively) to blame, (intransitively) to sigh with chagrin, (specifically) to sternly enjoin: - straitly charge, groan, murmur against.