Jesus—His Life and Message: Miracles (Part 18)

August 8, 2017

by Peter Amsterdam

Raising the Dead (Part 4)

In this article we’ll continue the story of Lazarus that we started in the previous one.

Jesus’ Meeting with Mary

After Martha’s discussion with Jesus and her declaration of faith—“Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world”—we’re told that:

She went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 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.” 1

Jesus remained outside the village while Martha went to tell Mary that He was there. Martha spoke privately to Mary, most likely so as to not let the others know that Jesus was nearby, probably because the people who had come to mourn with them were from Jerusalem, where Jesus had almost been stoned recently. As soon as Mary heard Jesus was nearby, she immediately went to Him, followed by the others in the house. Upon seeing Jesus, Mary fell at His feet, something she had done before, as mentioned at the beginning of this chapter and again in the next.

It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.2

Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.3

Luke’s Gospel tells of Mary sitting at the Lord's feet and listening to Jesus’ teaching.

Here she falls at His feet and partially repeats what Martha had said when first seeing Him: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Like Martha, she expressed the conviction that Jesus could have saved Lazarus had He been there when her brother was still alive.

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.4

The Greek word translated as weeping is defined as to cry, wail, lament, or any loud expression of pain or sorrow. As was common in those days, Mary and those who accompanied her were grieving with tears, wailing, and visible displays of sadness. Upon seeing this, Jesus was deeply moved and greatly troubled. These terms are used in this verse, and again a few verses later. The Greek word used for deeply moved is an unusual one. It signifies a loud inarticulate noise, and its proper use appears to be for the snorting of horses. When used in speaking of people, it usually denotes anger. There are various possibilities put forth as to what this verse means and how it should be understood. The basic question is, who or what was Jesus angry about?

One author explains:

Most English translations simply dodge the problem by concealing the reference to anger. Jesus was not angry, they imply, just “deeply moved in the spirit and troubled,” or “deeply disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” But most commentators acknowledge that Jesus is indeed said to have been “angry,” both here and in verse 38.5

One possibility is that He was angry at the Jews who accompanied Mary when she came to visit Him. Martha had told Mary about Jesus being nearby out of earshot of the Jews who had come from Jerusalem. Jesus, who was close to this family, may have wanted time alone with Mary as He had with Martha, but those who followed her made this impossible. This anger is mentioned again when Jesus was at the grave, again possibly because He had hoped to perform the miracle in a more intimate setting, like when He raised Jairus’ daughter. In that instance, Jesus sent everyone out of the house except three of His disciples and the child’s parents.

Other commentators feel that this anger was caused by the presence and grief of the sisters and of the Jews, which was almost forcing Him to do a miracle, and such a miracle would be impossible to hide and thus could cause Him more trouble with the religious authorities.

Still others believe the focus of this anger was His indignation at the hypocritical attitude of the mourners. Others see it as being related to the unbelief expressed in the uncontrolled grief of Mary and her friends.

It seems more likely that the spectacle of the distress of Mary and her companions enraged Jesus because it brought poignantly home to his consciousness the evil of death, its unnaturalness, its “violent tyranny.” In Mary’s grief he sees and feels the misery of the whole human race and burns with rage against the oppressor of men.6

Jesus Goes to Lazarus’ Tomb

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?”7

Witnessing the weeping and wailing of others, Jesus wept. The word translated as wept conveys the meaning of a quiet weeping. Knowing that He was going to raise Lazarus, He most likely wasn’t weeping due to sadness, but rather over the others’ pain, showing His love and compassion, as well as His humanity. Once again, people mentioned that He could have healed Lazarus. His asking where Lazarus was buried was most likely understood by those present as stating that He wanted to go and mourn at Lazarus’ tomb.

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?”8

Upon arrival at the cave where Lazarus was buried, Jesus commanded the stone covering the tomb to be moved. The ancient Egyptians embalmed their dead to preserve them permanently from decomposition. On the other hand, the Jews put spices on the bodies of their dead, which only kept the stench of decomposition from being overwhelming for a few days at most, while they mourned. Their intent wasn’t to stop decomposition, but rather to encourage it; as a year after burying the dead, they would exhume the bones and rebury them. Martha knew that Lazarus’ corpse would have started decomposing by this time, and the mention of the odor reinforces the fact that Lazarus is indeed dead.

Jesus reminds Martha that He told her that if you believed you would see the glory of God. He’s most likely referring back to one or both of the things He said earlier in this passage: “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it,”9 and “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”10 Martha had earlier told Him that she believed, so His response to her mention of the smelly corpse was to remind her to have faith.

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”11

Presumably it was the people who had accompanied Mary when she went to see Jesus who Jesus instructed to move the stone from the mouth of the grave. Jesus then addressed His Father, thanking Him for hearing His prayer. Due to the tense of the Greek wording John used, it’s likely that Jesus prayed a silent prayer to His Father and then thanked His Father out loud for hearing His prayer, thus making the point that the power to raise the dead was from His Father. While the Gospels make abundant mention of Jesus praying, even spending whole nights in prayer, there is only one other instance of His praying before performing a miracle—when He gave thanks before distributing the loaves and fishes.12 It’s not that Jesus didn’t pray before performing miracles; He undoubtedly did, but the Gospels intentionally emphasize Jesus’ deity to show that He had authority over Satan, death, demons, and sickness in His own right.

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”13

Having thanked His Father for answering His prayer, Jesus spoke directly to Lazarus, commanding him to come out. Lazarus did just that. He was bound in his grave clothes, wrapped round with a large linen cloth and tied at the hands and feet with further strips. His head would have been wrapped in a separate face napkin to keep the jaw in place. Being bound up in that manner would have made it difficult to walk, but would allow him to shuffle or hop as he emerged from the cave.

The mention of the grave clothes and Lazarus being wrapped with a linen cloth might have been included to point out the difference between Lazarus’ resuscitation and Jesus’ resurrection. At Jesus’ resurrection no one needed to roll away the stone; Jesus’ body was no longer there, and it was no longer bound in grave clothes. When John looked into Jesus’ tomb, we read that he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.14

While Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Lazarus eventually died and awaits the final resurrection, in which all who have died in Christ will arise for eternity. Jesus’ resurrection was of a different magnitude than Lazarus’, as we see from what the apostle Paul wrote: But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.15

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.16

In response to witnessing the raising of Lazarus from the dead, many of the Jews who were present believed in Jesus. However, some of the witnesses became Jesus’ betrayers. In the rest of the eleventh chapter of John, we read that after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, some of the people present reported these happenings to the chief priest and “the council,” and from that day on they made plans to put him to death.17 By raising Lazarus, it was as if Jesus had signed His own death warrant. At the same time, He showed God’s power working through Him, strengthened the faith of believers, and brought more people to believe.

Jesus’ healing miracles, His nature miracles, His setting free those possessed by Satan, and His raising the dead all testified to the power of God residing in Him. They were proof that He was who He claimed to be—the Son of God.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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1 John 11:28–32.

2 John 11:2.

3 John 12:3.

4 John 11:33.

5 Michaels, The Gospel of John, 636.

6 B. B. Warfield, “The Emotional Life of Our Lord,” in The Person and Work of Christ (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1950), 115. As quoted in Bruce Milne, The Message of John, 165.

7 John 11:34–37.

8 John 11:38–40.

9 John 11:4.

10 John 11:25–26.

11 John 11:41–42.

12 John 6:11, Matthew 15:36, Mark 8:7.

13 John 11:43–44.

14 John 20:5, 6–7.

15 1 Corinthians 15:20–26 NIV.

16 John 11:45–46.

17 John 11:53.