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Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
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CHAPTER 11

Joh 11:1-46. Lazarus Raised from the DeadThe Consequences of This.

1. of Bethany—at the east side of Mount Olivet.

the town of Mary and her sister Martha—thus distinguishing it from the other Bethany, "beyond Jordan." (See on Joh 1:28; Joh 10:40).

2. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, &c.—This, though not recorded by our Evangelist till Joh 12:3, was so well known in the teaching of all the churches, according to our Lord's prediction (Mt 26:13), that it is here alluded to by anticipation, as the most natural way of identifying her; and she is first named, though the younger, as the more distinguished of the two. She "anointed THE Lord," says the Evangelist—led doubtless to the use of this term here, as he was about to exhibit Him illustriously as the Lord of Life.

3-5. his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, he whom thou lovest is sick—a most womanly appeal, yet how reverential, to the known affection of her Lord for the patient. (See Joh 11:5, 11). "Those whom Christ loves are no more exempt than others from their share of earthly trouble and anguish: rather are they bound over to it more surely" [Trench].

4. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death—to result in death.

but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby—that is, by this glory of God. (See Greek.) Remarkable language this, which from creature lips would have been intolerable. It means that the glory of God manifested in the resurrection of dead Lazarus would be shown to be the glory, personally and immediately, of THE Son.

5. Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus—what a picture!—one that in every age has attracted the admiration of the whole Christian Church. No wonder that those miserable skeptics who have carped at the ethical system of the Gospel, as not embracing private friendships in the list of its virtues, have been referred to the Saviour's peculiar regard for this family as a triumphant refutation, if such were needed.

6. When he heard he was sick, he abode two days still … where he was—at least twenty-five miles off. Beyond all doubt this was just to let things come to their worst, in order to display His glory. But how trying, meantime, to the faith of his friends, and how unlike the way in which love to a dying friend usually shows itself, on which it is plain that Mary reckoned. But the ways of divine are not as the ways of human love. Often they are the reverse. When His people are sick, in body or spirit; when their case is waxing more and more desperate every day; when all hope of recovery is about to expire—just then and therefore it is that "He abides two days still in the same place where He is." Can they still hope against hope? Often they do not; but "this is their infirmity." For it is His chosen style of acting. We have been well taught it, and should not now have the lesson to learn. From the days of Moses was it given sublimely forth as the character of His grandest interpositions, that "the Lord will judge His people and repent Himself for His servants"—when He seeth that their power is gone (De 32:36).

7-10. Let us go into Judea again—He was now in Perea, "beyond Jordan."

8. His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought, &c.—literally, "were (just) now seeking" "to stone thee" (Joh 10:31).

goest thou thither again?to certain death, as Joh 11:16 shows they thought.

9. Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day?—(See on Joh 9:4). Our Lord's day had now reached its eleventh hour, and having till now "walked in the day," He would not mistime the remaining and more critical part of His work, which would be as fatal, He says, as omitting it altogether; for "if a man (so He speaks, putting Himself under the same great law of duty as all other men—if a man) walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him."

11-16. Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may wake him out of sleep—Illustrious title! "Our friend Lazarus." To Abraham only is it accorded in the Old Testament, and not till after his death, (2Ch 20:7; Isa 41:8), to which our attention is called in the New Testament (Jas 2:23). When Jesus came in the flesh, His forerunner applied this name, in a certain sense, to himself (Joh 3:29); and into the same fellowship the Lord's chosen disciples are declared to have come (Joh 15:13-15). "The phrase here employed, "our friend Lazarus," means more than "he whom Thou lovest" in Joh 11:3, for it implies that Christ's affection was reciprocated by Lazarus" [Lampe]. Our Lord had been told only that Lazarus was "sick." But the change which his two days' delay had produced is here tenderly alluded to. Doubtless, His spirit was all the while with His dying, and now dead "friend." The symbol of "sleep" for death is common to all languages, and familiar to us in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, however, a higher meaning is put into it, in relation to believers in Jesus (see on 1Th 4:14), a sense hinted at, and clearly, in Ps 17:15 [Luthardt]; and the "awaking out of sleep" acquires a corresponding sense far transcending bare resuscitation.

12. if he sleep, he shall do well—literally, "be preserved"; that is, recover. "Why then go to Judea?"

14. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead—Says Bengel beautifully, "Sleep is the death of the saints, in the language of heaven; but this language the disciples here understood not; incomparable is the generosity of the divine manner of discoursing, but such is the slowness of men's apprehension that Scripture often has to descend to the more miserable style of human discourse; compare Mt 16:11."

15. I am glad for your sakes I was not there—This certainly implies that if He had been present, Lazarus would not have died; not because He could not have resisted the importunities of the sisters, but because, in presence of the personal Life, death could not have reached His friend [Luthardt]. "It is beautifully congruous to the divine decorum that in presence of the Prince of Life no one is ever said to have died" [Bengel].

that ye may believe—This is added to explain His "gladness" at not having been present. His friend's death, as such, could not have been to Him "joyous"; the sequel shows it was "grievous"; but for them it was safe (Php 3:1).

16. Thomas, … called Didymus—or "the twin."

Let us also go, that we may die with him—lovely spirit, though tinged with some sadness, such as reappears at Joh 14:5, showing the tendency of this disciple to take the dark view of things. On a memorable occasion this tendency opened the door to downright, though but momentary, unbelief (Joh 20:25). Here, however, though alleged by many interpreters there is nothing of the sort. He perceives clearly how this journey to Judea will end, as respects his Master, and not only sees in it peril to themselves, as they all did, but feels as if he could not and cared not to survive his Master's sacrifice to the fury of His enemies. It was that kind of affection which, living only in the light of its Object, cannot contemplate, or has no heart for life, without it.

17-19. when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days—If he died on the day the tidings came of his illness—and was, according to the Jewish custom, buried the same day (see Jahn's Archæology, and Joh 11:39; Ac 5:5, 6, 10)—and if Jesus, after two days' further stay in Perea, set out on the day following for Bethany, some ten hours' journey, that would make out the four days; the first and last being incomplete [Meyer].

18. Bethany was nigh Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs—rather less than two miles; mentioned to explain the visits of sympathy noticed in the following words, which the proximity of the two places facilitated.

19. many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary to comfort them—Thus were provided, in a most natural way, so many witnesses of the glorious miracle that was to follow, as to put the fact beyond possible question.

20-22. Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him—true to the energy and activity of her character, as seen in Lu 10:38-42. (See on Lu 10:38-42).

but Mary sat … in the house—equally true to her placid character. These undesigned touches not only charmingly illustrate the minute historic fidelity of both narratives, but their inner harmony.

21. Then said Martha … Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died—As Mary afterwards said the same thing (Joh 11:32), it is plain they had made this very natural remark to each other, perhaps many times during these four sad days, and not without having their confidence in His love at times overclouded. Such trials of faith, however, are not peculiar to them.

22. But I know that even now, &c.—Energetic characters are usually sanguine, the rainbow of hope peering through the drenching cloud.

whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee—that is "even to the restoration of my dead brother to life," for that plainly is her meaning, as the sequel shows.

23-27. Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again—purposely expressing Himself in general terms, to draw her out.

24. Martha said, … I know that he shall rise again … at the last day—"But are we never to see him in life till then?"

25. Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life—"The whole power to restore, impart, and maintain life, resides in Me." (See on Joh 1:4; Joh 5:21). What higher claim to supreme divinity than this grand saying can be conceived?

he that believeth in me, though … dead … shall he live—that is, The believer's death shall be swallowed up in life, and his life shall never sink into death. As death comes by sin, it is His to dissolve it; and as life flows through His righteousness, it is His to communicate and eternally maintain it (Ro 5:21). The temporary separation of soul and body is here regarded as not even interrupting, much less impairing, the new and everlasting life imparted by Jesus to His believing people.

Believest thou this?—Canst thou take this in?

27. Yea, … I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, &c.—that is, And having such faith in Thee, I can believe all which that comprehends. While she had a glimmering perception that Resurrection, in every sense of the word, belonged to the Messianic office and Sonship of Jesus, she means, by this way of expressing herself, to cover much that she felt her ignorance of—as no doubt belonging to Him.

28-32. The Master is come and calleth for thee—The narrative does not give us this interesting detail, but Martha's words do.

29. As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly—affection for her Lord, assurance of His sympathy, and His hope of interposition, putting a spring into her distressed spirit.

31. The Jews … followed her … to the grave—Thus casually were provided witnesses of the glorious miracle that followed, not prejudiced, certainly, in favor of Him who wrought it.

to weep there—according to Jewish practice, for some days after burial.

fell at his feet—more impassioned than her sister, though her words were fewer. (See on Joh 11:21).

33-38. When Jesus … saw her weeping, and the Jews … weeping … he groaned in the spirit—the tears of Mary and her friends acting sympathetically upon Jesus, and drawing forth His emotions. What a vivid and beautiful outcoming of His "real" humanity! The word here rendered "groaned" does not mean "sighed" or "grieved," but rather "powerfully checked his emotion"—made a visible effort to restrain those tears which were ready to gush from His eyes.

and was troubled—rather, "troubled himself" (Margin); referring probably to this visible difficulty of repressing His emotions.

34. Where have ye laid him? … Lord, come and see—Perhaps it was to retain composure enough to ask this question, and on receiving the answer to proceed with them to the spot, that He checked Himself.

35. Jesus wept—This beautifully conveys the sublime brevity of the two original words; else "shed tears" might have better conveyed the difference between the word here used and that twice employed in Joh 11:33, and there properly rendered "weeping," denoting the loud wail for the dead, while that of Jesus consisted of silent tears. Is it for nothing that the Evangelist, some sixty years after it occurred, holds up to all ages with such touching brevity the sublime spectacle of the Son of God in tears? What a seal of His perfect oneness with us in the most redeeming feature of our stricken humanity! But was there nothing in those tears beyond sorrow for human suffering and death? Could these effects move Him without suggesting the cause? Who can doubt that in His ear every feature of the scene proclaimed that stern law of the Kingdom, "The wages of sin is death" (Ro 6:23), and that this element in His visible emotion underlay all the rest?

36. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!—We thank you, O ye visitors from Jerusalem, for this spontaneous testimony to the human tenderness of the Son of God.

37. And—rather, "But."

some … said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that this man should not have died?—The former exclamation came from the better-feeling portion of the spectators; this betokens a measure of suspicion. It hardly goes the length of attesting the miracle on the blind man; but "if (as everybody says) He did that, why could He not also have kept Lazarus alive?" As to the restoration of the dead man to life, they never so much as thought of it. But this disposition to dictate to divine power, and almost to peril our confidence in it upon its doing our bidding, is not confined to men of no faith.

38. Jesus again groaning in himself—that is, as at Joh 11:33, checked or repressed His rising feelings, in the former instance, of sorrow, here of righteous indignation at their unreasonable unbelief; (compare Mr 3:5) [Webster and Wilkinson]. But here, too, struggling emotion was deeper, now that His eye was about to rest on the spot where lay, in the still horrors of death, His "friend."

a cave—the cavity, natural or artificial, of a rock. This, with the number of condoling visitors from Jerusalem, and the costly ointment with which Mary afterwards anointed Jesus at Bethany, all go to show that the family was in good circumstances.

39-44. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone—spoken to the attendants of Martha and Mary; for it was a work of no little labor [Grotius]. According to the Talmudists, it was forbidden to open a grave after the stone was placed upon it. Besides other dangers, they were apprehensive of legal impurity by contact with the dead. Hence they avoided coming nearer a grave than four cubits [Maimonides in Lampe]. But He who touched the leper, and the bier of the widow of Nain's son, rises here also above these Judaic memorials of evils, every one of which He had come to roll away. Observe here what our Lord did Himself, and what He made others do. As Elijah himself repaired the altar on Carmel, arranged the wood, cut the victim, and placed the pieces on the fuel, but made the by-standers fill the surrounding trench with water, that no suspicion might arise of fire having been secretly applied to the pile (1Ki 18:30-35); so our Lord would let the most skeptical see that, without laying a hand on the stone that covered His friend, He could recall him to life. But what could be done by human hand He orders to be done, reserving only to Himself what transcended the ability of all creatures.

Martha, the sister of … the dead—and as such the proper guardian of the precious remains; the relationship being here mentioned to account for her venturing gently to remonstrate against their exposure, in a state of decomposition, to eyes that had loved him so tenderly in life.

Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days—(See on Joh 11:17). It is wrong to suppose from this (as Lampe and others do) that, like the by-standers, she had not thought of his restoration to life. But the glimmerings of hope which she cherished from the first (Joh 11:22), and which had been brightened by what Jesus said to her (Joh 11:23-27), had suffered a momentary eclipse on the proposal to expose the now sightless corpse. To such fluctuations all real faith is subject in dark hours. (See, for example, the case of Job).

40. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?—He had not said those very words, but this was the scope of all that He had uttered to her about His life-giving power (Joh 11:23, 25, 26); a gentle yet emphatic and most instructive rebuke: "Why doth the restoration of life, even to a decomposing corpse, seem hopeless in the presence of the Resurrection and the Life? Hast thou yet to learn that 'if thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth?'" (Mr 9:23).

41. Jesus lifted up his eyes—an expression marking His calm solemnity. (Compare Joh 17:1).

Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me—rather, "heardest Me," referring to a specific prayer offered by Him, probably on intelligence of the case reaching Him (Joh 11:3, 4); for His living and loving oneness with the Father was maintained and manifested in the flesh, not merely by the spontaneous and uninterrupted outgoing of Each to Each in spirit, but by specific actings of faith and exercises of prayer about each successive case as it emerged. He prayed (says Luthardt well) not for what He wanted, but for the manifestation of what He had; and having the bright consciousness of the answer in the felt liberty to ask it, and the assurance that it was at hand, He gives thanks for this with a grand simplicity before performing the act.

42. And—rather, "Yet."

I knew that thou hearest me always, but because of the people that stand by I said it, that they might believe that thou hast sent me—Instead of praying now, He simply gives thanks for answer to prayer offered ere He left Perea, and adds that His doing even this, in the audience of the people, was not from any doubt of the prevalency of His prayers in any case, but to show the people that He did nothing without His Father, but all by direct communication with Him.

43, 44. and when he had thus spoken, he cried with a loud voice—On one other occasion only did He this—on the cross. His last utterance was a "loud cry" (Mt 27:50). "He shall not cry," said the prophet, nor, in His ministry, did He. What a sublime contrast is this "loud cry" to the magical "whisperings" and "mutterings" of which we read in Isa 8:19; 29:4 (as Grotius remarks)! It is second only to the grandeur of that voice which shall raise all the dead (Joh 5:28, 29; 1Th 4:16).

44. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him and let him go—Jesus will no more do this Himself than roll away the stone. The one was the necessary preparation for resurrection, the other the necessary sequel to it. The life-giving act alone He reserves to Himself. So in the quickening of the dead to spiritual life, human instrumentality is employed first to prepare the way, and then to turn it to account.

45, 46. many … which … had seen … believed … But some … went … to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done—the two classes which continually reappear in the Gospel history; nor is there ever any great work of God which does not produce both. "It is remarkable that on each of the three occasions on which our Lord raised the dead, a large number of persons was assembled. In two instances, the resurrection of the widow's son and of Lazarus, these were all witnesses of the miracle; in the third (of Jairus' daughter) they were necessarily cognizant of it. Yet this important circumstance is in each case only incidentally noticed by the historians, not put forward or appealed to as a proof of their veracity. In regard to this miracle, we observe a greater degree of preparation, both in the provident arrangement of events, and in our Lord's actions and words than in any other. The preceding miracle (cure of the man born blind) is distinguished from all others by the open and formal investigation of its facts. And both these miracles, the most public and best attested of all, are related by John, who wrote long after the other Evangelists" [Webster and Wilkinson].

47-54. What do we? for this man doeth many miracles—"While we trifle, 'this man,' by His 'many miracles,' will carry all before Him; the popular enthusiasm will bring on a revolution, which will precipitate the Romans upon us, and our all will go down in one common ruin." What a testimony to the reality of our Lord's miracles, and their resistless effect, from His bitterest enemies!

51. Caiaphas … prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation—He meant nothing more than that the way to prevent the apprehended ruin of the nation was to make a sacrifice of the Disturber of their peace. But in giving utterance to this suggestion of political expediency, he was so guided as to give forth a divine prediction of deep significance; and God so ordered it that it should come from the lips of the high priest for that memorable year, the recognized head of God's visible people, whose ancient office, symbolized by the Urim and Thummim, was to decide in the last resort, all vital questions as the oracle of the divine will.

52. and not for that nation only, &c.—These are the Evangelist's words, not Caiaphas'.

53. they took council together to put him to death—Caiaphas but expressed what the party was secretly wishing, but afraid to propose.

Jesus … walked no more openly among the Jews—How could He, unless He had wished to die before His time?

near to the wilderness—of Judea.

a city called Ephraim—between Jerusalem and Jericho.

55-57. passover … at hand … many went … up … before the passover, to purify themselves—from any legal uncleanness which would have disqualified them from keeping the feast. This is mentioned to introduce the graphic statement which follows.

56. sought they for Jesus, and spake among themselves, as they stood in the temple—giving forth the various conjectures and speculations about the probability of His coming to the feast.

that he will not come—The form of this question implies the opinion that He would come.

57. chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment that if any knew where he were, he should show it, that they might take him—This is mentioned to account for the conjectures whether He would come, in spite of this determination to seize Him.

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