Raising Lazarus

The seventh and final miracle in the Book of Signs (the first half of the Gospel of John) is the raising of Lazarus (Jn 11: 1-44). It is one of the longest accounts in the four Gospels, and the story’s importance to the Gospel of John cannot be underestimated. First, it shows the humanity of Jesus. John 11:35 tells us that Jesus wept at the sight of Mary upset over the death of Lazarus. John uses the passive of the Greek verb tarasso – to be agitated – to describe how Jesus felt at the sight of Mary mourning the death of Lazarus. The only other place we are told that Jesus “became agitated” in spirit is when he spoke of Judas betraying him in verse 13:21.

Secondly, the miracle speaks not only to his compassion, but also his command over nature. We are told by three sources in the story (Jn 11:13; 11:21; 11:32) that Lazarus is definitively dead, not asleep or sick. We are also told in verse 11:39, when Jesus approaches the tomb where Lazarus has already been laid to rest, that Lazarus “has been dead four days.”

Just as important to the passage is the faith shown by the disciples.  First, Jesus receives word of the illness of Lazarus, and agrees to return to Bethany, in the direction of Jerusalem.  Thomas Didymus agrees with Jesus: Let us go also, that we may die with him.  When he arrives in Bethany, Martha expresses sorrow that Jesus had not arrived sooner to heal Lazarus.  But she confesses an unshakeable faith in Jesus, saying in verse 22: And I know whatever you ask from God, God will give you.

After Jesus visits the tomb and expresses a prayer to God, he tells a bystander to roll away the stone.  Jesus makes good on his promise to Martha, saying  to her, Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God? And Lazarus comes out, still wrapped in burial cloth.

This is the final miracle performed by Jesus.  As with all the miracles in John, the action is self-revelatory of who Jesus is.  He performs the miracle to demonstrate his close relationship with God, to show that he acts on God’s authority, and to demonstrate that faith is an important component in the success of the miracle.  This miracle is also the last straw for the chief priests, who argue in verse 48 that if we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation. According to John, these events transpire just a week before he enters Jerusalem for the Passover and his Passion, the account of which begins in chapter 12 of John.

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