God’s Triune nature is reflected in patterns of three throughout Scripture, as we have seen in three women named Mary who were close to Jesus in His earthly ministry. We know of one of,these women, Mary of Bethany, because of three Scripture accounts of memorable occasions in her interactions with Jesus.
In the first, she repented and received forgiveness (Luke 7: 37-50, signifying the first step before we can be saved – knowing that we are sinners in desperate need of a Savior (Romans 3:23; 6:23). The second occasion represents our Christian walk, as Mary spends quality time with Christ and listens to His every word (Luke 10:38-42).
The third occasion, namely Jesus raising her brother Lazarus from the dead (John 11: 1-45) symbolizes eternal life, which is the ultimate destiny for every born-again believer (John 3:3-8) who is saved by placing their faith in the death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) of Jesus Christ as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6). Jesus triumphed over sin, death and hell for all His followers, giving us eternal and abundant life with Him (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). Mary’s third encounter with Jesus is a foreshadowing of that unspeakable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15).
Jesus raised Lazarus from death to live once more in a mortal body, but when He comes for God’s children at the Rapture, we shall receive glorified, incorruptible bodies like His, that will never age, die or experience evil in any form: sin, pain, or sorrow (1 Corinthians 15:35-54; Revelation 7:17; 21:4).
John 11 opens by telling us of the family unit of Lazarus, who was sick, and his sisters Mary and Martha (v. 1). John identifies Mary of Bethany as the woman who anointed Jesus with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair in lavish adoration (v. 2). This reminder of her salvation, deep love for Christ, and self-sacrificing worship is significant for three reasons, reflecting the viewpoints of the unsaved world, the saved believer, and the Lord Himself.
From the world’s viewpoint, Mary’s obvious love for Jesus made His apparent abandonment of Mary and her family in their time of need all the more deplorable (v. 37), particularly since it was well known that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (v. 5, 36), and that the two women had sent a message to Him concerning their brother’s illness (v. 3).
From Mary’s viewpoint, she had poured out all her love on Him, and in this time of testing she continued to wait for His lead (v. 20), and to obey when He called (v. 28-29), even though she questioned why He had not come sooner (v. 32).
From Jesus’ viewpoint, He wanted not only to restore life to His friend and give his family cause for celebration rather than grief, but to glorify God. Instead of healing Lazarus while he was sick, He would perform the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead (v. 4, 40), thereby proving Himself to be the Son of God (v. 4, 45), sent to this world by God Himself (v. 41-42).
Knowing that He would glorify God by raising a corpse to life, rather than just visiting the bedside of a sick friend, Jesus therefore waited for two days after hearing the message of Lazarus’ sickness, leaving for Judea on the third day (v. 6-7).
Three times it is repeated that Jesus and His followers must go to Judea (v. 7, 8, 11). Despite the disciples warning that the Jews had tried to stone Jesus in Judea, He replies metaphorically that when we are in God’s perfect will, we are in the safest possible place (v. 9, 10). Three times the word “sleep” is repeated, Jesus using it figuratively to refer to Lazarus’ death (v. 11), but the disciples thinking He meant literal sleep (v. 12.13).
Because Lazarus died, a great crowd had assembled to comfort the grieving sisters, and many people would witness his resurrection, not just Mary and Martha, but many of the Jews (v. 19).
When Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, Lazarus has already been dead four days, which is significant because many Jews believe (through oral tradition; not based on Scripture) that the spirit of the deceased lingers with the dead body for three days. Thus there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Lazarus was dead, not to mention buried and decomposing (v. 39).
Martha, known to be a woman of action, left the house as soon as she heard Jesus was coming; she met Him on the road; and she reproached Him for not preventing her brother’s death by arriving sooner (v. 20). And yet, she shows her faith that God will answer Jesus’ prayer (v. 22), that Lazarus and other believers will rise in the resurrection at the last day (v. 24), and that Jesus is the promised Messiah (the Christ, the Son of God, the One prophesied to come into the world; v. 27).
When Martha secretly tells Mary that Jesus has arrived, Mary responds by arising quickly from their house, going to Him, and falling down at His feet (v. 29, 32). This is the third instance of Mary at the feet of Jesus, the first being when she cleansed His feet with her tears and hair, the second listening quietly at His feet, and now grasping His feet as she seeks comfort for what she sees as the tragic loss of her brother.
As this point everyone is weeping: Mary, the Jews who accompanied her (v. 33), and even Jesus (v. 35). Jesus was genuinely sorrowful, because He loved Lazarus (v. 36); it pained Him to see his family grieving (v. 33); and perhaps even because He knew He would call Lazarus back to the pain of this world from the bliss of Paradise. Jesus groaned in the spirit, was troubled (v. 33), and again groaned in Himself (v. 38) as He approached the grave, which was a cave with a stone lying on it (v. 38).
Jesus announces that belief would be rewarded by seeing God’s glory (v. 40); gives thanks to God (v. 41); and explains that He prayed aloud to reaffirm the onlookers’ faith that He was sent by the Father (v. 42). Then He issues three commands: for Lazarus to come forth; for the people to free him from his grave clothes; and for them to release him (v. 43-44).
Lazarus comes forth bound up in his hands, foot, and face (v. 44), perhaps symbolizing that when we are dead, we can no longer work for God (Matthew 9:37-38), travel to spread His Word (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15), or use our voice to worship, praise and witness for Him (Isaiah 38:18; John 9:4; Psalm 30:8-9). While we are yet alive in this world, may we have Mary’s Godly sorrow over our sins, obedience in our Christian walk, and faith in His gift of eternal life!
© 2015 Laurie Collett
You are absolutely right when you say that the primary purpose of raising Lazarus from the dead is to visibly demonstrate to the crowd of Jews that he is the Messiah, the Son of God. In addition, we believe that there is a direct connection between the raising of Lazarus, and the cheering of the crowd at his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.
But the chief priests refused to believe in Him, even after raising Lazarus from the dead. This is where I see the Lazarus of Luke 16 as being the very same man as narrated in John 11. In Luke's Gospel, Abraham declares to the rich man that his five brothers (all in the Sanhedrin) would not change their minds (repent) even if Lazarus was to rise again from the dead. John's narrative fulfills the Lord's prophetic warning in Luke. The Jewish leaders refused to repent, even after Lazarus was brought back to life. Instead, they planned to kill the man and crucify Jesus. Yet according to Acts 3, even after the resurrection of Jesus, the Jewish leaders, rather than repenting, instead persecuted the apostles and their followers.
Oh the stubbornness of the human heart!!!
Again a brilliant triune-based article. God bless.
What a brilliant point, about the link between the Lazarus of Luke 16 & John 11. The Pharisees continued to reject Jesus even after seeing this miracle, but there is always a remnant whom God can use mightily -- in this case, Paul the apostle, whom Jesus changed from persecuting Christians to spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles and writing 15 books of the Bible.
Thanks so much for your kind words and for sharing your insights.
love you dear
Love & prayers to you, Denise!
Great post, Laurie. The Pharisees realized that as long as Lazarus was alive, he was a testimony to Christ's being the Messiah, so they sought to kill him as well.
Love & prayers to you, Denise!
Thanks, Donald! Great point about the Pharisees wanting Lazarus dead to cover up the evidence that Jesus is indeed the Son of God.
May God bless you,
According to the Bible, how many Old Testament prophets raised people from the dead? Answer: Two. Elijah and Elisha.
That's it. And they only did it three times. So the act of raising someone from the dead would have been seen as a very, very big deal. It was not like healing someone of a disease or casting out demons. Lots of people, it seems, could do those miracles. Nope, raising someone from the dead was the big kahuna of all miracles! Is there any instance in the Bible of a false prophet or a prophet of another god raising the dead?
In the Gospel of John chapter 11, we are told that Lazarus had been dead for four days. His body was decomposing to the point that he stunk. Lazarus death and burial were very public events. His tomb was a known location. Many Jews had come to mourn with Mary and Martha and some of them were wondering why the great miracle worker, Jesus, had not come and healed his friend Lazarus; essentially blaming Jesus for letting Lazarus die.
Let's step back and look at the facts asserted in this passage: Only two OT prophets had raised people from the dead, and these two prophets were considered probably the two greatest Jewish prophets of all time: Elijah and Elisha. If this story is true, the supernatural powers of Jesus were on par with the supernatural powers of the greatest Jewish prophets of all time! If this event really did occur, it should have shocked the Jewish people to their very core---a new Elijah was among them! This event must have been the most shocking event to have occurred in the lives of every living Jewish man and woman on the planet. The news of this event would have spread to every Jewish community across the globe.
And yet...Paul, a devout and highly educated Jew, says not one word about it. Not one. Not in his epistles; not in the Book of Acts. Think about that. What would be the most powerful sign to the Jews living in Asia Minor and Greece---the very people to whom Paul was preaching and attempting to convert---to support the claim that Jesus of Nazareth himself had been raised from the dead? Answer: The very public, very well documented raising from the dead of Lazarus of Bethany by Jesus!
But nope. No mention of this great miracle by Paul. (A review of Paul's epistles indicates that Paul seems to have known very little if anything about the historical Jesus. Read here.)
And there is one more very, very odd thing about the Raising-of-Lazarus-from-the-Dead Miracle: the author of the Gospel of John, the very last gospel to be written, is the only gospel author to mention this amazing miracle! The authors of Mark, Matthew, and Luke say NOTHING about the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Nothing.
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