Rev. Dick is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
In our first study on John 11 (cf. the Standard Bearer, November 1, 1997) we introduced the narrative, and noted the main purpose of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus, namely, that it be “for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (v. 4).
We noted also that, really, the main focus in John 11 is not on Lazarus, nor his death and resurrection, but on Jesus, the resurrection and the life.
Let us continue to have this biblical focus in our searching the Scriptures! In this we show that we have the resurrection and the life!
Resurrected and living children of God, let us search the word of life!
This “for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby”!
In answer to the disciples’ question and fear that Jesus would meet His death if He went to Judea (11: 8, 16), Jesus speaks of walking in the light, and walking in the night (vv. 9, 10).
What does Jesus mean by this?
By referring to the day and to walking in “the day,” Jesus is most likely speaking of His day, His time on earth, when He must work the works of the Father that sent Him (cf. John 9:4, 5). By referring to the twelve hours in a (the) day, Jesus speaks of the fact that this, His day, His time on earth, is fixed, ordained of the Father according to His unchangeable decree. Whether Jesus lives or whether He dies, therefore, is all in the plan of God. Men may make their plots to kill Jesus. But the purposes of the Lord, they shall be established! And all in God’s timing! It could very well be, in fact, that Jesus is implying here that it is not God’s time for Him to die. It is still the day; Jesus still has Father’s work to do on earth. Therefore, though the Jews, or even the whole world, plot His demise, no one, at this time, can put Him to death!
Consider here how Jesus rests in God’s sovereignty and goodness, and also how He comforts the disciples by referring them to these virtues of God! How do we take the same comfort in these glorious things?
Jesus mentions “walking in the day,” and He says that, in so walking, one stumbleth not because he seeth the light of this world. How do we walk in the day? What is the blessing of walking in the day? Comment on how the following passages bear upon Jesus’ words about “walking in the day”: John 9:4, 5; 12:35, 36; Ephesians 5:1-20; I John 1:5-7. Is there any parallel to what Jesus is saying here, in the Israelites following the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness?
The message had come that Lazarus was sick. For two days Jesus abode where He was. Then, after announcing His resolve to go to Judea, Jesus announced, without having heard from anyone, that Lazarus was sleeping, but that He would go and wake him out of sleep (11:11).
The disciples thought Jesus spoke of literal sleep. They even thought that this, maybe, was a sign that Lazarus was recovering (11:12). Jesus, however, spoke of Lazarus’ death (v. 13, 14), and of the fact that He would raise Lazarus from the dead.
Of death as sleep:
*In one sense, of course, the person who dies is “asleep” after death—that is, with regard to the body; the body and bodily functions are “asleep.” They are no longer operative. But does the Bible teach, as some suggest, that also the soul of man sleeps after his bodily death, i.e., is unconscious? What do these passages teach with regard to the state of the body and soul after death: Job 7:9, 10; Ecclesiastes 9:6; Isaiah 63:16; Luke 16:19-31; 23:43; II Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-23; Revelation 7:15-17; 20:4; Heidelberg Catechism, LD 22, Q. 42?
*There is gospel in sleep, and in describing the death of believers as falling asleep. Comment on this in light of such passages as Acts 7:60; I Corinthians 15:55-58; I Thessalonians 4:13-18.
By the time Jesus came to Bethany, Lazarus had been in the grave already four days (v. 17). Jesus finds Jewish comforters there, consoling Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus.
What Scriptures might the Jews have brought which would provide comfort in the loss of a loved one? Is there any evidence that these Jews would or would not have brought the comfort of the gospel?
In Martha’s grief (vv. 21-27) she shows faith. How does she show faith? In what way does she show little faith?
Jesus works Martha’s faith and strengthens it by one of His seven “I Am” sermons (cf. John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9,11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:5). What does Jesus mean by declaring Himself the resurrection and the life (v. 25)? What is this life to which Jesus refers (cf. John 17:3)? What does Jesus say is the relationship between faith and life? How do we harmonize the fact of Lazarus’ death and our dying with Jesus’ promise that those who believe in Him shall never die?
Jesus asked the question of Martha: Believest thou this? Why did He ask this? Ought ministers ask this question of professing believers? Parents, of children? Missionaries, of those who have only just heard the gospel? What is the purpose?
How was Mary’s grief (vv. 28-33) different from, but also the same as, Martha’s?
Jesus, at this time, grieved. This is clear in that He wept (v. 35); He groaned in the spirit (vv. 33, 38); He was troubled (v. 33).
Truly profound, this! Two questions immediately come to mind. For what did Jesus grieve? And how could Jesus grieve?
Was Jesus’ weeping over the loss of a good friend? Did He weep for the others’ sake, grieving for their grief? Or was He troubled, as some suggest, only because of the unbelief of the people? What does Jesus’ grieving here teach of His humanity and empathy and qualification to be our High Priest (cf. Heb. 4:14, 15)?
But how can Jesus grieve? Does Jesus weep as God, in His divine nature? Is it possible for there to be suffering with God? Consider and discuss this in light, always in light, of the passages which teach the absolute perfection of God!
What of our grief? Is it right for a Christian to cry? What comfort can we find in our grieving? How can we comfort others in their grieving?
Jesus goes to the grave site of Lazarus. Lazarus’ body is in a cave, and a stone is laid across the entrance to protect it from wild animals, and to seal in the stench of a decaying body. Jesus commands that the stone be taken away from the opening of the grave. Why, considering what happens next, was it necessary that the stone be rolled away?
Verses 41, 42 teach that the raising of Lazarus was in answer to the prayer of Jesus. In connection with this, our Savior makes this statement about His prayers: that He knows that the Father hears Him always (v. 42). How does this statement, all by itself, refute the commonly held view that Jesus is the Savior of all men, or at least intends the salvation of all, even of the reprobate? (Hint: if Jesus is the Savior of all, or desires to be, would He not pray for them? But if He prays for them, then what would happen, according to v. 42?) What does this statement say about Jesus’ harmony with the Father? Does God hear us always? How do we keep in harmony with the Father so that our prayers are not hindered, but heard?
The raising of Lazarus was also by the word of Jesus. “Lazarus, come forth!” (v. 43) was Jesus’ word at this time. Look up the following passages, and others, and reflect upon this word of the Son of God: Genesis 1; Psalm 33:6, 9; John 1; Romans 4:17; Hebrews 1:3.
Was Lazarus alive by an act of God before Jesus called to him to come forth? Or did Jesus’ word work the life and the response so that Lazarus could come forth?
These are important questions with regard also to the preaching of the gospel to sinners, especially if we consider that Jesus’ call to Lazarus is a picture of Jesus calling the believer to life in the preaching of the gospel.
The question is: is regeneration (the spiritual resurrection life) effected in the heart of the dead sinner apart from, without the means of, the preaching (immediate regeneration)? Or is the regeneration effected by means of the preached Word (mediate regeneration)? For reflection and discussion consider Romans 10;14, 15; I Peter 1: 23-25; Canons III, IV/11-13). Consider in this light the distinction made in Reformed theology between regeneration in the narrower sense (in the heart, beneath the consciousness of a person—likened to the planting of the seed of life as in natural conception), and regeneration in the broader sense (that life which is already there, energized by the preaching to consciousness and believing activity—likened to the sprouting of the seed, otherwise known as conversion: cf. L.D. 33). Consider also how elect infants, when God takes them to glory in infancy, and how physically (deaf) and mentally handicapped people are called from spiritual death to life and to glory.
Many of the Jews who had come to Mary and who saw what Jesus had done, believed (v. 45). Amazing gift, this faith! Through it, Jesus says, those who believe see the glory of God (v. 40)! How does faith enable us to “see” the glory of God—even in the darkest of our circumstances? Just what do we see when we see the glory of God? Why is faith necessary (cf. I Cor. 2)?
In their unbelief many of the Jews, including the Jewish leaders, the chief priests, and the Pharisees, were not able to see the glory of God in Jesus, and in the miracle of Jesus. These, upon hearing of the things Jesus had done, called together a council (a session of the Sanhedrin: the great council of seventy-one prominent members of the Jerusalem community who judged important issues concerning the Jewish people). At the council, fear was expressed that all the people following after Jesus would occasion the Romans coming in and taking away any authority to rule that the Sanhedrin possessed, and also threatening the entire Jewish nation (v. 48). It is probable that the Jews were thinking that Jesus intended to establish some kind of earthly kingdom. The Romans, according to the Jewish understanding, would see Jesus and His Jewish disciples as a threat.
Caiaphas, the high priest at that time, and therefore the president of the Sanhedrin, then counseled that, for the good of the nation, this one man, Jesus, ought to die (vv. 50, 53, 57). In verses 51, 52 John has a wonderful, Spirit-inspired gospel interpretation of Caiaphas’ pronouncement! Reflect upon and discuss what Caiaphas’ words, as interpreted by John, signify regarding: God’s inspiration of His prophets (note: John understands Caiaphas to have been prophesying here: cf. I Pet. 1: 10-12); the substitutionary atonement of Messiah; the gathering together of the people of God from the nations to be one church (cf. John 1:29; 10:16; Is. 43:5; Eze. 34:12; 36:24ff.; I Pet. 2:9).As then, so now, there is a twofold result of Christ’s work and word: some believe, and some do not, and even seek the overthrow of the Lord. What are evidences of this twofold result today?
This miracle of the raising of Lazarus was among the many miracles recorded in John for the purpose of our believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so that, through faith, we might have life through Jesus’ name.List ten ways this notable miracle, and the whole narrative of John 11, reveal plainly that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
Was Lazarus in heaven in his soul during those four days his body lay in the grave? If this is the case, then surely after his resurrection (and thus after his soul reunited with his earthly body to continue on in this earthly life) Lazarus must have had the same mixed feelings Paul had (cf. Phil. 1:23, 24). On the one hand, Lazarus must have felt the most severe “letdown” one could possibly experience: he was let down from heaven! But on the other hand, Lazarus was no doubt “lifted up” in his faith—as one surely would be if he had actually experienced glory ( I Cor. 12:1-7—Paul’s experience).
Do we experience this same kind of thing? God has regenerated us. This is a spiritual resurrection from the dead, and even the experience of heaven on earth (Eph. 5:14; cf. Eph. 2:6)! But God is pleased to leave us on this earth, and in this vale of tears, fighting sin, and enduring all manner of trials for God’s sake!
How do we “come out of the grave,” only to have to die again, even daily in the soul, and one day in the body, with joy and confidence? What is the key to the blessed resurrection life, while in this life we do weep?