This is a Bible study on the passage in the gospel of John where Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead, and thereby teaches us that he is the Lord of resurrection life. To understand this post, you should stop and read John 11:1-57 before moving on.
What do the words of Thomas and the other disciples (Jn 11:8, 16) reveal about the risk of going to Bethany? Going to Bethany is like approaching the doorstep of Jerusalem, which is a hornet’s nest of Jesus’ enemies. Jesus and his disciples are safe to roam and teach in Galilee, which is many miles to the north of Jerusalem in Judea. So it is risky for Jesus (and anyone associating with him, or even approving of his ministry) to get near Jerusalem. In a sense, Jesus’ face is on a Most Wanted Poster printed by the Pharisees and other religious leaders in Jerusalem. There is a movement of people who want to please the religious leaders. Those people want to capture Jesus for their leaders. Jesus and his disciples know that to be captured likely means to be excommunicated and even be killed by those who hate them and their message.
But why does Jesus take the risk? Because his disciples still need to learn a lesson about who he is. They do not yet fully understand that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and that Jesus has the power to give life to the dead. By raising Lazarus from 4-day-old death, Jesus plans to demonstrate that he is the Lord of Life, and that resurrection life is found in him, not just through him.
How would you describe the extent of Martha’s faith in Jesus when she first sees him (Jn 11:21)? What does she believe? Martha addresses Jesus with the standard polite title “Lord” or “Sir”. But I think she expresses that Jesus is more to her than merely a gentleman. He is her Lord and Master, and she shows her faith in him by declaring that Jesus has the power to heal and prevent death. But her statement of faith is short-sighted. She believes that Jesus is a healer, but has she considered that Jesus can resurrect the dead?
The Pharisees taught that there would be an end-times resurrection (Jn 11:24), and Martha believes this. How is Jesus’ promise in John 11:23 different? Jesus promises Martha that her brother Lazarus will rise again. Martha agrees, confessing that she is orthodox in her belief. She believes the doctrine of the resurrection to life on the last day (the Day of the Lord). But Jesus means something more—not different—but more. Jesus is using a double meaning in his answer to Martha. John is fond of using double meanings in his gospel, and this passage is an example of this. Jesus promises that Lazarus will rise on the last day, but he also wants Martha to realize that the last days have broken into history. Jesus came to earth in the last days, and he will prove this by raising Lazarus from the dead today! “Resurrection life is available right now!” he is saying to Martha. And if it available right now for Martha, it is still available today. This doesn’t mean that Jesus promises to snatch us back from death today, but that resurrection life is the new life that Jesus brings to his followers, and that his own death and resurrection is a sign that the age of resurrection life has already begun.
How is “I am the resurrection and the life” different from “I can provide resurrection and life”? What does this say about Jesus? Why does this matter for us? It makes a world of difference. It is the difference between looking to Jesus for what he can give versus looking to Jesus for the reward of himself. Jesus does not only give new life to those who believe in him. Jesus gives new life, but he gives this new life by giving us himself. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Jesus is our reward. Being united to Christ is the essence of heaven, of salvation, of glory. This should matter a great deal to us because what we need is not just life, but life in relationship with God. Moses understood this truth when he exclaimed that he and the Israelites did not desire the Promised Land if the Lord would not go with them and dwell in their midst. Life without God is a poor substitute for life. Life without Jesus is not life at all. The sooner we learn this truth, the less we will be prone to idolatry and spiritual adultery. Salvation is union with Christ, and nothing less.
How would you describe Martha’s faith in John 11:27? How much of what Jesus has said do you think she understands? Martha has grown in her faith. She is a true disciple of Jesus. She is teachable and humble. She is bold to believe anything that Jesus teaches. She believes that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. But I don’t think she yet understands what Jesus means when he claims to be the resurrection and the life. She has a true, childlike faith in Jesus. Her faith is implicit and ready to go wherever Jesus takes her. And that is good. Her faith and understanding, like that of the other disciples, is about to be strengthened by the miracle Jesus will perform on Lazarus. Jesus doesn’t just raise Lazarus from the dead for Lazarus’s sake. He raises Lazarus to show that he has the power to conquer the last great enemy of humanity: death itself.
Jesus prays aloud not to impress his audience but to teach his followers. What could they learn about him from the way he talks to his Father (Jn 11:41-42)? Jesus has special, privileged access to God the Father. He is the only totally effective mediator between God and men. He is the only designed mediator between God and men. He is the only qualified mediator between God and men. Jesus can talk to God the Father any time, and the Father is ready to listen and answer the prayers of his Son Jesus Christ. The Father listens to the Son because the Son is on the Father’s mission. Jesus was sent by the Father to do the Father’s will. Because Jesus and the Father are one, whenever Jesus asks anything of the Father, the Father hears and the Father responds. Jesus is loving, trustworthy, worship-worthy. Jesus is the way to the Father. Jesus is God.
What do Jesus’ emotions, words, and action in John 11:1-44 reveal about him as a person? If this is what God is like, what do they reveal about God? The way that Jesus responds to the grief and pain of his friends is simply amazing. Jesus is a person—a human person—who understands the grief, suffering, and loss that accompanies the death of a loved one. When Jesus comes face to face with the ravages of death, he is outraged! Our translations say that “Jesus wept” (Jn 11:35), but that is an unfortunate translation. It is best read that Jesus roared in his soul at the damage and destruction that death’s toll takes on people. But Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead when the message was first delivered to him. His actions show that he hates death, but is more concerned with teaching his followers who he is and what he cares most about. Because Jesus is the image of God in human form, the heart of Jesus reveals to us the very heart of God. Want to know what God says, feels, thinks? Look at Jesus. Jesus reveals who God is, what he is like, and what God believes…because Jesus is God!
Why does it matter that this was a literal, physical raising from death—not the resuscitation of someone in a coma, not a mere symbol of men and women coming to life metaphorically, and not a promise of the immortality of a soul? It matters because death is the enemy. The enemy is not unconsciousness, a coma, metaphorical-symbolic death, or the body that “imprisons” the immortal soul. If Jesus only addressed these conditions, then the real enemy would still be left standing and reigning. Jesus goes to battle with death and wins the great victory. The promise of salvation is new LIFE. That life is human life—life in a physical body. To be absent from the body and present with the Lord is a great improvement on our present lot indeed, but it is only the intermediate state of the soul. The goal and eternal state is the reuniting of the soul with the immortal body, living forever in the presence of God. As the Apostle Paul declared, if the dead are not raised, then Christ is not raised, and if Christ is not raised (literally, physically) from the dead, then we are still in our sins and our faith is futile. So eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die! (1 Cor 15:16-17) But thanks be to God that Jesus defeated death and there is a literal, physical resurrection to follow the same kind of resurrection that Christ has.
But where does this leave us? How do we face a grave (our own or a loved one’s) in the company of Jesus? What place do grief, fear, and confidence each have? I remember vividly when my youngest brother died several years ago. It was easier to face his grave knowing that he loved God and trusted Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and for salvation. But the pain and searing loss was no less real. My family and I faced his death, funeral, and burial with much grief and sorrow. We cried a lot, and the tears did not stop after a short time. Whenever I see him in a photograph or think of him, the pain returns. Pain of loss, pain of regret, pain of missed opportunities, pain of death. But remarkably I don’t remember feeling any fear. I think that comes from my confidence that I’ll see him again in heaven. But more importantly, I believe that I had no fear because I don’t fear death (as I know that my brother also did not fear death). Jesus and the resurrection he promises give me confidence that death is defeated. The sting of death is sin, and my sins have been forgiven forever in Christ. Sure, I am still afraid of dying, but not of death. Dying can be painful in so many ways, but death is in the hands of the Savior, who has conquered it and has promised life with him forever.
Caiaphas “ruled the Sanhedrin from A.D. 18 to A.D. 36 and took personal responsibility for the political stability of the country.” What did he think he was saying in John 11:50? Ironically, what was he really saying (Jn 11:51-52)? Caiaphas thought he was saying that it would be best for one man to die so that the nation of Israel could keep its peace under Roman rule. Israel was a province until the authority of the Roman Empire. They were allowed to worship according to the dictates of their religion and keep their temple in functional order—but only if they behaved themselves and didn’t cause public disruptions to the peace. Rome was all about defeating enemies and bringing Roman peace (Pax Romana) to its empire. When the civic peace was disturbed, the might of the Roman empire would forcefully (and sometimes brutally) restore order. Caiaphas did not want the status quo to be altered, so he reasoned that the price of one controversial Jewish teacher was appropriate to maintain the political stability of the country. But John shows us that there is another double meaning here. Caiaphas spoke one way, but he was really prophesying as the high priest in office that year that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation and all the other scattered children of God to make them one. Paul wrote of this work of Christ in his letter to the Ephesians 2:11-22.
Now to bring it all together, how do we live as people who not only look forward to eternal life, but have already started eternal life now? By following the person of Jesus as Lord and example. By worshiping Jesus, believing the gospel, and being transformed by the gospel and the Spirit. By living life informed by the teachings of the Bible in the context of his church. By obeying the law of God (not to earn God’s approval, but as a thank offering to God for the salvation he provides). By sharing the good news of the gospel (the life and message of Jesus) with our families, neighbors, and friends. By loving God and our neighbor as ourselves. By living a life of continual, daily repentance, confessing our sins and experiencing the forgiveness that comes in Jesus Christ. By eying eternity that begins right now as we experience union with Jesus. These are all ways that we can life eternal life right now.