Summary: "I AM the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?" asks Jesus.
THE RAISING OF LAZARUS
The family of Lazarus, Martha and Mary of Bethany were especially loved by Jesus (John 11:3). Yet the sovereign Lord, for wise reasons of His own, did not rush to the bedside of His sick friend. It was no doubt as with the man born blind, “that the works of God might be manifest in him” (John 9:3).
Knowing in His spirit that Lazarus was now dead, Jesus explained His delay in terms of the benefit which would accrue to His disciples from what was about to happen (John 11:14-15). The Lord announced His intention to go to him now, when humanly speaking it was too late to do anything. The disciples may have doubted the wisdom of this because of the close proximity of Bethany to Jerusalem (John 11:8; John 11:18), but Thomas for one demonstrated a commitment to the Lord which professed to be willing to face death with Him if need be (John 11:16).
By the time Jesus got to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days (John 11:17). The professional mourners were in attendance at the home of Martha and Mary (John 11:19). Ever the practical hostess (Luke 10:38), Martha went out to meet Jesus (John 11:20).
Martha’s outlook oscillates between bewilderment and faith (John 11:21-22): the bereaved sister cannot decide whether to rebuke the Lord for not being there sooner, or to express relief that at least He is here now. Surely Jesus could have cured His friend before it came to this? Yet even now, is there not something He might yet do?
The conversation turns to resurrection (John 11:23-24). Lazarus is going to rise again on the last day, but not just on the last day. In the fifth significant “I am” saying of John’s Gospel, Jesus pronounces Himself to be “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25-26).
For the Christian “resurrection” is not restricted to the future: even our regeneration is viewed in terms of resurrection (John 5:24-25). Though we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), Jesus gives us life in all its abundance: a fullness of life just now, and eternal life beginning from now (John 10:10). When we begin to believe we have already commenced our “eternal” life.
This is not to deny the resurrection of the last day (John 11:24): in fact our present victorious life is explained in terms of that event (John 5:28-29). The righteous do die, but they have a hope which reaches beyond death. Neither should we mourn as the world mourns, who do not share in that hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Martha’s creed was perhaps not yet ready to embrace all the possibilities of a present resurrection. She did, however, acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah, the anointed one); the Son of God that was to come into the world (John 11:27). Martha went to get Mary whom she said Jesus was calling (John 11:28).
Hearing of His call Mary ran to Jesus, prostrated herself at His feet, and wept in bewilderment at what had taken place (John 11:29; John 11:32). Jesus became vexed in His spirit, a champion fired up for the fight to the death against death’s hold upon mankind (John 11:33). It is as if the Passion had already begun.
What followed is historic: Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus and wept tears not of uncontrollable grief, but of righteous anger against the violent tyranny of death (John 11:35). The mourners who had followed Mary from the house recognised in this the love which Jesus had for Lazarus, which is true, but others wondered at Jesus’ seeming inability to prevent this tragedy (John 11:36-37). Far from being unable to prevent death, however, Jesus was about to overcome death in what was to be the seventh and final significant “sign” (prior to Jesus’ own death and resurrection) in John’s Gospel.
Still fired up for the fight, Jesus approached the cave where the body was laid, and commanded that the stone should be rolled away (John 11:38-39). At this point the ever-practical Martha remonstrated with Him because by now it was too late, humanly speaking, to do anything for Lazarus. After four days, according to the common perception, corruption would have set in, and the spirit would have left the body for good.
Yet Jesus reminded Martha of His promise that if we have faith we will see the glory of God (John 11:40). The stone was removed, and Jesus prayed a public prayer which was designed to encourage faith in the hearers (John 11:41-42). He called Lazarus by name, just as the Good Shepherd does call His sheep by name (John 10:3), and the dead man rose from the dead (John 11:43-44).
Despite death’s defeat, the religious authorities intensified their plot to kill Jesus (John 11:46-53), and even added Lazarus to their hit list (John 12:10-11)! Some of Mary’s attendants believed in Jesus (John 11:45). Jesus, in pronouncing Himself the resurrection and the life asks us, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26).