Why Raise Lazarus from the Dead?


Rembrandt’s depiction

Why did Jesus raise Lazarus of Bethany from the dead?

The story has come up in my life three times this week and since this is about the time it happened nearly two thousand years ago, I thought it worth examining.

You probably know the story (found in John 11): Jesus and his disciples were out on the eastern side of the Jordan River, when Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha sent word  Lazarus, “he whom you, love is sick.”

Jesus got the message, telling those with him,

“This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

They lingered for several days. On the third day, Jesus told his disciples it was time to go back to Judea.

They protested, the Pharisees had threatened to stone Jesus if he returned to the area around Jerusalem–Bethany was nearby, basically the suburbs.

“Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.”

That made no sense to his disciples who argued if the man was asleep, he’d get better.

Jesus looked them square in the eye:

“Lazarus is dead. I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe.”

Off they went, with the men now wondering 1. how Jesus knew Lazarus was dead, 2. what good it would do, then, to go to Judea and 3. would they all be stoned to death?

By the time they got to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb four days.

His sisters and other mourners were sitting shiva, still wearing the mourning clothes they tore when they heard the news of his death.

(Jesus knew Lazarus was dead, but did not tear his clothing, even though he loved him because . . .  “the sickness was not unto death.” Pity the confused disciples.)

The house was crowded with people including religious authorities who had come down from Jerusalem–probably because they respected Lazarus, or they hoped to catch his close friend Jesus.

The two sisters were in mourning, but when Martha got the news Jesus was near, she went to greet him, displaying her disappointment with words:

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

Jesus: “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

(Note: this is what a devout Jewish woman believed before Jesus was resurrected from the dead).

Jesus replied with the Gospel:

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Martha did. She left Jesus, returned to the house and whispered in Mary’s ear that Jesus had come.

As typical of Mary, she jumped up and hurried to meet him.

The Jewish mourners standing by were sympathetic, “she is going to the tomb to weep there.”

Not exactly. Mary flung herself at Jesus and chided him–“if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

While Jesus wept in sympathy, the religious officials who had followed Mary came upon them and shook their heads.

Several sneered: “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”

They thought it a fair question.

Jesus went to the tomb and ordered the stone to be taken away.

Pragmatic Martha argued it would smell–he had been dead four days. Passover was nearly upon them, anyone opening the tomb would be unclean.

Jesus: “Did I not say that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” He thanked God and shouted, “Lazarus, come forth!”

Then what happened?Lazarus

Basically, a mummy shuffled out of the tomb, arms, legs, body and head bound in woven cloth.

Lazarus would not have been able to walk well.

What would you have thought?

Even if you were a disciple, who by that time should not have been surprised by anything that happened, seeing a figure, four days a corpse, must have been shocking.

If you were a jeering Pharisee whose question had just been answered, you probably would have trouble believing your eyes.

If you were a mourner in black torn clothing, your mouth must have hung open.

And if you were Martha and Mary, seeing a loved brother brought back to life?

The joy would have been overwhelming.

Thank you, Jesus, indeed.

They hurried to unwrap him–and planned a party.

Why did Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead?

Because he loved him?

Because Martha and Mary reproached him?

Reexamine what he said to the disciples before he had official word Lazarus had died.

Jesus knew what was happening in Bethany and what he would do.

Lazarus probably was dead by the time Jesus got the message.

But Jesus saw the reason behind the death–that Jesus and God might be glorified in a public place.

If the disciples thought about it, they would have remembered Jesus raised people from the dead before–or at least the terribly ill: Peter’s mother-in-law, the ruler’s daughter, the young son of the old widow.

But never before such a large audience of skeptics.

Reaction to the Resurrection

Many of the scoffing Jews who had traveled to Bethany to comfort two mourning sisters, returned home believing in Jesus.

Others scurried back to the Temple to report on what they had seen.

The chief priests and Pharisees–who had not witnessed Lazarus’ return to life–debated about what to do next.

They decided the best course of all, lest Jesus wrest their power away, was to kill him.

I shake my head every time I read that verse. How could they have been so blind?

Did they really think they could kill a man who had just resurrected a man four days in the tomb?

And poor Lazarus. The chief priests also plotted to kill him, simply because he had been resurrected. (John 12: 9-11)

Why Raise Lazarus from the Dead?

  1. That Jesus would be glorified.
  2. To demonstrate the power of God over death.
  3. To restore a loved brother to his sisters.
  4. To draw the wavering Jews into the Kingdom of God
  5. To set the stage for Passover in Jerusalem–where Jesus himself would die and be resurrected.

Can you think of any other reasons?


Why raise Lazarus from the dead? Click to Tweet

The formidable story of Lazarus raised from the dead. Click to Tweet

Missing the point: the Pharisees and Lazarus raised from the dead. Click to Tweet







%d bloggers like this: