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Bible Commentaries
John 11

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

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Verse 1


Account of the sickness of Lazarus, 1.

His sisters Martha and Mary send for Christ, 2.

Our Lord's discourse with his disciples on this sickness and

consequent death, 3-16.

He arrives at Bethany four days after the burying of Lazarus,

17, 18.

Martha meets Christ-their conversation, 19-27.

She returns and Mary goes out to meet him, in great distress,


Christ comes to the grave-his conversation there, 34-42.

He raises Lazarus from the dead, 43-46.

The priests and Pharisees, hearing of this, hold a council, and

plot his destruction, 47, 48.

The remarkable prophecy of Caiaphas, and the consequent

proceedings of the Jews, 49-53.

Jesus withdraws into a city called Ephraim, 54.

They lay wait for him at the passover, 55-67.


Verse John 11:1. Lazarus, of Bethany — St. John, who seldom relates any thing but what the other evangelists have omitted, does not tell us what gave rise to that familiar acquaintance and friendship that subsisted between our Lord and this family. It is surprising that the other evangelists have omitted so remarkable an account as this is, in which some of the finest traits in our Lord's character are exhibited. The conjecture of Grotius has a good deal of weight. He thinks that the other three evangelists wrote their histories during the life of Lazarus; and that they did not mention him for fear of exciting the malice of the Jews against him. And indeed we find, from John 12:10, that they sought to put Lazarus to death also, that our Lord might not have one monument of his power and goodness remaining in the land. Probably both Lazarus and his sisters were dead before St. John wrote. Bethany was situated at the foot of the mount of Olives, about two miles from Jerusalem. Bishop Pearce observes that "there is a large gap in John's history of Christ in this place. What is mentioned in the preceding chapter passed at the feast of the dedication, John 10:22, about the middle of our December; and this miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead seems to have been wrought but a little before the following passover, in the end of March, at which time Jesus was crucified, as may (he thinks) be gathered from verses John 11:54 and John 11:55 of this chapter, John 11:54-55, and from John 12:9." John has, therefore, according to the bishop's calculation, omitted to mention the several miracles which our Lord wrought for above three months after the things mentioned in the preceding chapter.

Calmet says, Christ left Jerusalem the day after the dedication took place, which was the 18th of December. He event then to Bethabara, where he continued preaching and his disciples baptizing. About the middle of the following January Lazarus fell sick: Christ did not leave Bethabara till after the death of Lazarus, which happened about the 18th of the same month.

Bishop Newcome supposes that our Lord might have stayed about a month at Bethabara.

The harmonists and chronologists differ much in fixing dates, and ascertaining times. In cases of this nature, I believe men may innocently guess as well as they can; but they should assert nothing.

Verse 2

Verse John 11:2. It was that Mary which anointed — There is much disagreement between learned men relative to the two anointings of our Lord, and the persons who performed these acts. The various conjectures concerning these points the reader will find in the notes on Matthew 26:7, c., but particularly at the end of that chapter. Matthew 26:7- :

Dr. Lightfoot inquires, Why should Bethany be called the town of Martha and Mary, and not of Lazarus? And he thinks the reason is, that Martha and Mary had been well known by that anointing of our Lord, which is mentioned Luke 7:37 (see the note there;) but the name of Lazarus had not been mentioned till now, there being no transaction by which he could properly be brought into view. He therefore thinks that the aorist αλειψασα, which we translate anointed, should have its full force, and be translated, who had formerly anointed; and this he thinks to have been the reason of that familiarity which subsisted between our Lord and this family; and, on this ground, they could confidently send for our Lord when Lazarus fell sick. This seems a very reasonable conjecture; and it is very likely that the familiarity arose out of the anointing.

Others think that the anointing of which the evangelist speaks is that mentioned John 12:1, &c., and which happened about six days before the passover. St. John, therefore, is supposed to anticipate the account, because it served more particularly to designate the person of whom he was speaking.

Verse 3

Verse John 11:3. He whom thou lovest is sick. — Nothing could be more simple, nor more modest, than this prayer: they do not say, Come and heal him: or, Command the disease to depart even where thou art, and it will obey thee: - they content themselves with simply stating the case, and using an indirect but a most forcible argument, to induce our Lord to show forth his power and goodness: - He is sick, and thou lovest him; therefore thou canst neither abandon him, not us.

Verse 4

Verse John 11:4. This sickness is not unto death — Not to final privation of life at this time; but a temporary death shall be now permitted, that the glory of God may appear in the miracle of his resurrection. It is very likely that this verse contains the message which Christ sent back, by the person whom the afflicted sisters had sent to him; and this, no doubt, served much to strengthen their confidence, though their faith must have been greatly exercised by the death of their brother: for when this took place, though they buried him, yet they believed, even then, probably on the ground of this message, that Jesus might raise him from the dead. See John 11:22.

Verse 5

Verse John 11:5. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. — Therefore his staying two days longer in Bethabara was not through lack of affection for this distressed family, but merely that he might have a more favourable opportunity of proving to them how much he loved them. Christ never denies a less favour, but in order to confer a greater. God's delays, in answering prayers offered to him by persons in distress, are often proofs of his purpose to confer some great kindness, and they are also proofs that his wisdom finds it necessary to permit an increase of the affliction, that his goodness may be more conspicuous in its removal.

Verse 8

Verse John 11:8. The Jews of late sought to stone thee — It was but a few weeks before that they were going to stone him in the temple, on the day of the feast of the dedication, John 10:31.

Verse 9

Verse John 11:9. Are there not twelve hours in the day? — The Jews, as well as most other nations, divided the day, from sun-rising to sun-setting, into twelve equal parts; but these parts, or hours, were longer or shorter, according to the different seasons of the year. John 1:39.

Our Lord alludes to the case of a traveller, who has to walk the whole day: the day points out the time of life-the night that of death. He has already used the same mode of speech, John 9:4: I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work. Here he refers to what the apostles had just said-The Jews were but just now going to stone thee. Are there not, said he, twelve hours in the day? I have not travelled these twelve hours yet-my last hour is not yet come; and the Jews, with all their malice and hatred, shall not be able to bring it a moment sooner than God has purposed. I am immortal till my work is done; and this, that I am now going to Bethany to perform, is a part of it. When all is completed, then their hour, and that of the power of darkness, shall commence. See Luke 22:53.

If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not — A traveller should use the day to walk in, and not the night. During the day he has the sun, the light of this world: he sees his way, and does not stumble: but, if he walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in it, John 11:10; i.e. there is no sun above the horizon. The words εν αυτω, John 11:10, refer not to the man, but to the world, the sun, its light, not being above the horizon. Life is the time to fulfil the will of God, and to prepare for glory. Jesus is the light of the world; he that walks in his Spirit, and by his direction, cannot stumble - cannot fall into sin, nor be surprised by an unexpected death. But he who walks in the night, in the darkness of his own heart, and according to the maxims of this dark world, he stumbles-falls into sin, and at last falls into hell. Reader! do not dream of walking to heaven in the night of thy death. God has given thee the warning: receive it, and begin to live to him, and for eternity.

Verse 11

Verse John 11:11. Lazarus sleepeth — It was very common among the Jews to express death by sleep; and the expression, falling asleep - sleeping with their fathers, &c., were in great use among them. The Hebrews probably used this form of speech to signify their belief in the immortality of the soul, and the resurrection of the body.

It is certain that our Lord received no intimation of Lazarus's death from any person, and that he knew it through that power by which he knows all things.

Verse 12

Verse John 11:12. If he sleep, he shall do well. — That is, if he sleep only, c. Though the word sleep frequently meant death, (see Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 Corinthians 15:18, 1 Corinthians 15:20), yet, as it was an ambiguous term, the disciples appear here to have mistaken its meaning. Because, in certain acute disorders, the composing the patient to rest was a favourable sign; therefore the words, If he sleep, he shall do well, or recover, became a proverbial forth of speech among the Jews. In most diseases, sleep is a very favourable prognostic: hence that saying of Menander: -

Ὑπνος δε πασης εϚιν ὑγιεια νοσου.

Sleep is a remedy for every disease.

See Grotius here. The meaning of the disciples seems to have been this: There can be no need for thee to go into Judea to awake our friend Lazarus; he will awake time enough, and his very sleep is a presage of his recovery: therefore do not hazard thy life by going.

Verse 15

Verse John 11:15. I am glad for your sakes that I was not there — "I tell you plainly, Lazarus is dead: and I am glad I was not there - if I had been, I should have been prevailed on to have healed him almost as soon as he fell sick, and I should not have had so striking an occasion to manifest the glory of God to you, and to establish you in the faith." It was a miracle to discover that Lazarus was dead, as no person had come to announce it. It was a greater miracle to raise a dead man than to cure a sick man. And it was a still greater miracle, to raise one that was three or four days buried, and in whose body putrefaction might have begun to take place, than to raise one that was but newly dead. See John 11:39.

Verse 16

Verse John 11:16. Thomas, which is called DidymusThomas, or תאום Thaom, was his Hebrew name, and signifies a twin - one who had a brother or a sister born with him at the same time: Didymus, διδυμος, is a literal translation of the Hebrew word into Greek. In Genesis 25:24, Esau and Jacob are called תומים thomeem, twins; Septuag. διδυμα, from διδυμος, a twin - from the Anglo-Saxon [A.S.], to double.

Let us also go, that we may die with him. — That is, "Seeing we cannot dissuade our Lord from going, and his death is likely to be the inevitable consequence, let us give him the fullest proof we can of our love, by going and suffering death with him." Some think Thomas spoke these words peevishly, and that they should be translated thus, Must we also go, and expose ourselves to destruction with him? which is as much as to say: "If he will obstinately go and risk his life in so imminent a danger, let us act with more prudence and caution." But I think the first sense is to be preferred. When a matter is spoken which concerns the moral character of a person, and which may be understood in a good and a bad sense, that sense which is most favourable to the person should certainly be adopted. This is taking things by the best handle, and both justice and mercy require it. The conduct of most men widely differs from this: of such an old proverb says, "They feed like the flies - pass over all a man's whole parts, to light upon his sores."

Verse 17

Verse John 11:17. He had lain in the grave four days already. — Our Lord probably left Bethabara the day, or the day after, Lazarus died. He came to Bethany three days after; and it appears that Lazarus had been buried about four days, and consequently that he had been put in the grave the day or day after he died. Though it was the Jewish custom to embalm their dead, yet we find, from John 11:39, that he had not been embalmed; and God wisely ordered this, that the miracle might appear the more striking.

Verse 18

Verse John 11:18. Fifteen furlongs — About two miles: for the Jewish miles contained about seven furlongs and a half. So Lightfoot, and the margin.

Verse 19

Verse John 11:19. Many of the Jews came — Bethany being so nigh to Jerusalem, many of the relatives and friends of the family came, according to the Jewish custom, to mourn with the afflicted sisters. Mourning, among the Jews, lasted about thirty days: the three first days were termed days of weeping: then followed seven of lamentation. During the three days, the mourner did no servile work; and, if any one saluted him, he did not return the salutation. During the seven days, he did no servile work, except in private-lay with his bed on the floor - did not put on his sandals-did not wash nor anoint himself - had his head covered-and neither read in the law, the Mishnah, nor the Talmud. All the thirty days he continued unshaven, wore no white or new clothes, and did not sew up the rents which he had made in his garments. See Lightfoot, and John 11:31.

Verse 20

Verse John 11:20. Martha - went and met him — Some suppose she was the eldest of the two sisters - she seems to have had the management of the house. See Luke 10:40.

Mary sat still in the house. — It is likely that by this circumstance the evangelist intended to convey the idea of her sorrow and distress; because anciently afflicted persons were accustomed to put themselves in this posture, as expressive of their distress; their grief having rendered them as it were immovable. See Ezra 9:3-4; Nehemiah 1:4; Psalms 137:1; Isaiah 47:1; Luke 1:79; and Matthew 27:61.

Verse 21

Verse John 11:21. If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. — Mary said the same words to him a little after, John 11:32, which proves that these sisters had not a complete knowledge of the omnipotence of Christ: they thought he could cure at hand, but not at a distance; or they thought that it was because he did not know of their brother's indisposition that he permitted him to die. In either of these cases it plainly appears they had not a proper notion of his divinity; and indeed the following verse proves that they considered him in no other light than that of a prophet. Query - Was it not proper that Christ should, in general, as much as might be, hide the knowledge of his divinity from those with whom he ordinarily lodged? Had they known him fully, would not the reverence and awe connected with such a knowledge have overwhelmed them?

Verse 22

Verse 22. I know, that even now — She durst not ask so great a favour in direct terms; she only intimated modestly that she knew he could do it.

Verse 23

Verse 23. Thy brother shall rise again. — That is, directly; for it was by raising him immediately from the dead that he intended to comfort her.

Verse 24

Verse 24. I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection — The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead was then commonly received; and though it was our Lord who fully exemplified it by his own resurrection, yet the opinion was common, not only among God's people, but among all those who believed in the God of Israel. The Jewish writings after the captivity are full of this doctrine. See 2 Macc. 7:9, 14, 23, 36; 12:43; 14:46; Wisd. 5:1, 7, 17; 6:6, 7. See also Josephus and the Targums, passim.

Verse 25

Verse 25. I am the resurrection, and the life — Thou sayest that thy brother shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day; but by whom shall he arise if not by ME, who am the author of the resurrection, and the source of life? And is it not as easy for me to raise him now as to raise him then? Thus our blessed Lord raises her hope, animates her faith, and teaches her that he was not a mere man, but the essential principle and author of existence.

Though he were dead — Every man who has believed or shall believe in me, though his believing shall not prevent him from dying a natural death, yet his body shall be re-animated, and he shall live with me in an eternal glory. And every one who is now dead, dead to God, dead in trespasses and sins, if he believe in me, trust on me as his sole Saviour, he shall live, shall be quickened by my Spirit, and live a life of faith, working by love.

Verse 26

Verse 26. Shall never die. — Or, Shall not die for ever. Though he die a temporal death. he shall not continue under its power for ever; but shall have a resurrection to life eternal.

Believest thou this? — God has determined to work in the behalf of men only in proportion to their faith in him: it was necessary, therefore, that these persons should be well instructed concerning his nature, that they might find no obstacles to their faith. These sisters had considered him only as a prophet hitherto; and it was necessary that they should now be farther instructed, that, as God was to exert himself, they might believe that God was there.

Verse 27

Verse 27. Yea, Lord: I believe — πεπιστευκα, I have believed. Either meaning that she had believed this for some time past, or that, since he began to teach her, her faith had been considerable increased; but verbs preter, in Greek, are often used to signify the present. Martha here acknowledges Christ for the Messiah promised to their fathers; but her faith goes no farther; and, having received some hope of her brother's present resurrection, she waited for no farther instruction, but ran to call her sister.

Verse 28

Verse 28. The Master is come — This was the appellation which he had in the family; and from these words it appears that Christ had inquired for Mary, desiring to have her present, that he might strengthen her faith, previously to his raising her brother.

Verse 30

Verse 30. Jesus was not yet come into the town — As the Jewish burying places were without their cities and villages, it appears that the place where our Saviour was, when Martha met him, was not far from the place where Lazarus was buried. Luke 7:12; Luke 7:12.

Verse 31

Verse 31. She goeth unto the grave to weep there. — It appears that it was the custom for the nearest relatives of the deceased to go at times, during the three days of weeping, accompanied by their friends and neighbours, to mourn near the graves of the deceased. They supposed that the spirit hovered about the place where the body was laid for three days, to see whether it might be again permitted to enter, but, when it saw the face change, it knew that all hope was now past. It was on this ground that the seven days of lamentation succeeded the three days of weeping, because all hope was now taken away. They had traditions that, in the course of three days, persons who had died were raised again to life. See Lightfoot.

Mr. Ward says: "I once saw some Mussulman women, near Calcutta, lying on the new-made grave of a relation, weeping bitterly. In this manner the Mussulman females weep and strew flowers over the graves of relations, at the expiration of four days, and forty days, after the interment."

Verse 33

Verse 33. He groaned in the spirit, c.] Here the blessed Jesus shows himself to be truly man and a man, too, who, notwithstanding his amazing dignity and excellence, did not feel it beneath him to sympathize with the distressed, and weep with those who wept. After this example of our Lord, shall we say that it is weakness, folly, and sin to weep for the loss of relatives? He who says so, and can act in a similar case to the above according to his own doctrine, is a reproach to the name of man. Such apathy never came from God: it is generally a bad scion, implanted in a nature miserably depraved, deriving its nourishment from a perverted spirit or a hardened heart; though in some cases it is the effect of an erroneous, ascetic mode of discipline.

It is abolishing one of the finest traits in our Lord's human character to say that he wept and mourned here because of sin and its consequences. No: Jesus had humanity in its perfection, and humanity unadulterated is generous and sympathetic. A particular friend of Jesus was dead; and, as his friend, the affectionate soul of Christ was troubled, and he mingled his sacred tears with those of the afflicted relatives. Behold the man, in his deep, heart-felt trouble, and in his flowing tears! But when he says, Lazarus, come forth! behold the GOD! and the God too of infinite clemency, love, and power. Can such a Jesus refuse to comfort the distressed, or save the lost? Can he restrain his mercies from the penitent soul, or refuse to hear the yearnings of his own bowels? Can such a character be inattentive to the welfare of his creatures? Here is God manifested in the flesh! living in human nature, feeling for the distressed, and suffering for the lost! Reader! ask thy soul, ask thy heart, ask the bowels of thy compassions, if thou hast any, could this Jesus unconditionally reprobate from eternity any soul of man? Thou answerest, NO! God repeats, NO! Universal nature re-echoes, NO! and the tears and blood of Jesus eternally say, NO!

Verse 35

Verse 35. Jesus wept. — The least verse in the Bible, yet inferior to none. Some of the ruthless ancients, improperly styled fathers of the Church, thought that weeping was a degradation of the character of Christ; and therefore, according to the testimony of Epiphanius, Anchorat. c. 13, razed out of the Gospel of St. Luke the place (Luke 19:41) where Christ is said to have wept over Jerusalem.

Verse 36

Verse 36. Behold how he loved him! — And when we see him pouring out his blood and life upon the cross for mankind, we may with exultation and joy cry out, Behold how he hath loved US!

Verse 37

Verse 37. Could not this man, which opened the eyes, c.] Through the maliciousness of their hearts, these Jews considered the tears of Jesus as a proof of his weakness. We may suppose them to have spoken thus: "If he loved him so well, why did he not heal him? And if he could have healed him, why did he not do it, seeing he testifies so much sorrow at his death? Let none hereafter vaunt the miracle of the blind man's cure if he had been capable of doing that, he would not have permitted his friend to die." Thus will men reason, or rather madden, concerning the works and providence of God; till, by his farther miracles of mercy or judgment, he converts or confounds them.

Verse 38

Verse 38. It was a cave, c.] It is likely that several of the Jewish burying-places were made in the sides of rocks some were probably dug down like a well from the upper surface, and then hollowed under into niches, and a flat stone, laid down upon the top, would serve for a door. Yet, from what the evangelist says, there seems to have been something peculiar in the formation of this tomb. It might have been a natural grotto, or dug in the side of a rock or hill, and the lower part of the door level with the ground, or how could Lazarus have come forth, as he is said to have done, John 11:44?

Verse 39

Verse 39. Take ye away the stone. — He desired to convince all those who were at the place, and especially those who took away the stone, that Lazarus was not only dead, but that putrescency had already taken place, that it might not be afterwards said that Lazarus had only fallen into a lethargy; but that the greatness of the miracle might be fully evinced.

He stinketh — The body is in a state of putrefaction. The Greek word οζω signifies simply to smell, whether the scent be good or bad; but the circumstances of the case sufficiently show that the latter is its meaning here. Our translators might have omitted the uncouth term in the common text; but they chose literally to follow the Anglo-Saxon, [A.S.], and it would be now useless to attempt any change, as the common reading would perpetually recur, and cause all attempts at mending to sound even worse than that in the text.

For he hath been dead four days.] τεταρταιος γαρ εστι, This is the fourth day, i.e. since his interment. Christ himself was buried on the same day on which he was crucified, see John 19:42, and it is likely that Lazarus was buried also on the same day on which he died. John 11:17.

Verse 40

Verse 40. If thou wouldest believe, &c.] So it appears that it is faith alone that interests the miraculous and saving power of God in behalf of men. Instead of δοξαν, the glory, one MS. reads δυναμιν, the miraculous power.

Verse 41

Verse 41. Where the dead was laid. — These words are wanting in BC*DL, three others; Syriac, Persic, Arabic, Sahidic, AEthiopic, Armenian, Vulgate, Saxon, and in all the Itala. Griesbach leaves them out of the text.

Father, I thank thee — As it was a common opinion that great miracles might be wrought by the power and in the name of the devil, Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven, and invoked the supreme God before these unbelieving Jews, that they might see that it was by his power, and by his only, that this miracle was done; that every hinderance to this people's faith might be completely taken out of the way, and that their faith might stand, not in the wisdom of man, but in the power of the Most High. On this account our Lord says, he spoke because of the multitude, that they might see there was no diabolic influence here, and that God in his mercy had visited his people.

Verse 43

Verse 43. He cried with a loud voice — In John 5:25, our Lord had said, that the time was coming, in which the dead should hear the voice of the Son of God, and live. He now fulfils that prediction, and cries aloud, that the people may take notice, and see that even death is subject to the sovereign command of Christ.

Jesus Christ, says Quesnel, omitted nothing to save this dead person: he underwent the fatigue of a journey, he wept, he prayed, he groaned, he cried with a loud voice, and commanded the dead to come forth. What ought not a minister to do in order to raise a soul, and especially a soul long dead in trespasses and sins!

Verse 44

Verse 44. Bound hand and foot with grave - clothesSwathed about with rollers - κειριαις, from κειρω, I cut. These were long slips of linen a few inches in breadth, with which the body and limbs of the dead were swathed, and especially those who were embalmed, that the aromatics might be kept in contact with the flesh. But as it is evident that Lazarus had not been embalmed, it is probable that his limbs were not swathed together, as is the constant case with those who are embalmed, but separately, so that he could come out of the tomb at the command of Christ, though he could not walk freely till the rollers were taken away. But some will have it that he was swathed exactly like a mummy, and that his coming out in that state was another miracle. But there is no need of multiplying miracles in this case: there was one wrought which was a most sovereign proof of the unlimited power and goodness of God. Several of the primitive fathers have adduced this resurrection of Lazarus as the model, type, proof, and pledge of the general resurrection of the dead.

Loose him, and let him go. — He would have the disciples and those who were at hand take part in this business, that the fullest conviction might rest on every person's mind concerning the reality of what was wrought. He whom the grace of Christ converts and restores to life comes forth, at his call, from the dark, dismal grave of sin, in which his soul has long been buried: he walks, according to the command of Christ, in newness of life; and gives, by the holiness of his conduct, the fullest proof to all his acquaintance that he is alive from the dead.

Verse 45

Verse 45. Many of the Jews - believed on him. — They saw that the miracle was incontestable; and they were determined to resist the truth no longer. Their friendly visit to these distressed sisters became the means of their conversion. How true is the saying of the wise man, It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting! Ecclesiastes 7:2. God never permits men to do any thing, through a principle of kindness to others, without making it instrumental of good to themselves. He that watereth shall be watered also himself, Proverbs 11:25. Therefore, let no man withhold good, while it is in the power of his hand to do it. Proverbs 3:27.

Verse 46

Verse 46. But some of them went their ways — Astonishing! Some that had seen even this miracle steeled their hearts against it; and not only so, but conspired the destruction of this most humane, amiable, and glorious Saviour! Those who obstinately resist the truth of God are capable of every thing that is base, perfidious, and cruel.

Verse 47

Verse 47. Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council — The Pharisees, as such, had no power to assemble councils; and therefore only those are meant who were scribes or elders of the people, in conjunction with Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas, who were the high priests here mentioned. See John 18:13; John 18:24.

What do we? — This last miracle was so clear, plain, and incontestable, that they were driven now to their wit's end. Their own spies had come and borne testimony of it. They told them what they had seen, and on their word, as being in league with themselves against Jesus, they could confidently rely.

Verse 48

Verse 48. All men will believe on him — If we permit him to work but a few more miracles like these two last (the cure of the blind man, and the resurrection of Lazarus) he will be universally acknowledged for the Messiah; the people will proclaim him king; and the Romans, who can suffer no government here but their own, will be so irritated that they will send their armies against us, and destroy our temple, and utterly dissolve our civil and ecclesiastical existence. Thus, under the pretense of the public good, these men of blood hide their hatred against Christ, and resolve to put him to death. To get the people on their side, they must give the alarm of destruction to the nation: if this man be permitted to live, we shall be all destroyed! Their former weapons will not now avail. On the subject of keeping the Sabbath, they had been already confounded; and his last miracles were so incontestable that they could no longer cry out, He is a deceiver.

Both our place and nation. — Literally, this place, τον τοπον: but that the temple only is understood is dear from Acts 6:13-14; Acts 2:0 Macc. 1:14; 2:18; 3:18; 5:16, 17; 10:7; where it is uniformly called the place, or the holy place, because they considered it the most glorious and excellent place in the world. When men act in opposition to God's counsel, the very evils which they expect thereby to avoid will come upon them. They said, If we do not put Jesus to death, the Romans will destroy both our temple and nation. Now, it was because they put him to death that the Romans burnt and razed their temple to the ground, and put a final period to their political existence. See Matthew 22:7; and the notes on chap. 24.

Verse 49

Verse 49. Caiaphas being the high priest that same year — By the law of Moses, Exodus 40:15, the office of high priest was for life, and the son of Aaron's race always succeeded his father, But at this time the high priesthood was almost annual: the Romans and Herod put down and raised up whom they pleased, and when they pleased, without attending to any other rule than merely that the person put in this office should be of the sacerdotal race. According to Josephus, Ant. xviii. c. 3, the proper name of this person was Joseph, and Caiaphas was his surname. He possessed the high priesthood for eight or nine years, and was deposed by Vitellius, governor of Judea. Luke 3:2; Luke 3:2.

Ye know nothing — Of the perilous state in which ye stand.

Verse 50

Verse 50. Nor consider — Ye talk more at random than according to reason, and the exigencies of the case. There is a various reading here in some MSS. that should be noticed. Instead of ουδε διαλογιζεσθε, which we translate, ye do not consider, and which properly conveys the idea of conferring, or talking together, ουδε λογιζεσθε, neither do ye reason or consider rightly, is the reading of ABDL, three others, and some of the primitive fathers. Griesbach, by placing it in his inner margin, shows that he thinks it bids fair to be the true reading. Dr. White thinks that this reading is equal, and probably preferable, to that in the text: Lectio aequalis, forsitan praeferenda receptae.

That one man should die for the people — In saying these remarkable words, Caiaphas had no other intention than merely to state that it was better to put Jesus to death than to expose the whole nation to ruin on his account. His maxim was, it is better to sacrifice one man than a whole nation. In politics nothing could be more just than this; but there are two words to be spoken to it: First, The religion of God says, we must not do evil that good may come: Romans 3:8. Secondly, It is not certain that Christ will be acknowledged as king by all the people; nor that he will make any insurrection against the Romans; nor that the Romans will, on his account, ruin the temple, the city, and the nation. This Caiaphas should have considered. A person should be always sure of his premises before he attempts to draw any conclusion from them. See Calmet. This saying was proverbial among the Jews: see several instances of it in Schoettgen.

Verse 51

Verse 51. This spake he not of himself — Wicked and worthless as he was, God so guided his tongue that, contrary to his intention, he pronounced a prophecy of the death of Jesus Christ.

I have already remarked that the doctrine of a vicarious atonement had gained, long before this time, universal credit in the world. Words similar to these of Caiaphas are, by the prince of all the Roman poets, put in the mouth of Neptune, when promising Venus that the fleet of AEneas should be preserved, and his whole crew should be saved, one only excepted, whose death he speaks of in these remarkable words:-

"Unum pro multis dabitar caput."

"One life shall fall, that many may be saved."

Which victim the poet informs us was Palinurus, the pilot of AEneas's own ship, who was precipitated into the deep by a Divine influence. See VIRG. AEn. v. l. 815, c.

There was no necessity for the poet to have introduced this account. It was no historic fact, nor indeed does it tend to decorate the poem. It even pains the reader's mind for, after suffering so much in the sufferings of the pious hero and his crew, he is at once relieved by the interposition of a god, who promises to allay the storm, disperse the clouds, preserve the fleet, and the lives of the men; but, - one must perish! The reader is again distressed, and the book ominously closes with the death of the generous Palinurus, who strove to the last to be faithful to his trust, and to preserve the life of his master and his friend. Why then did the poet introduce this? Merely, as it appears to me, to have the opportunity of showing in a few words his religious creed, on one of the most important doctrines in the world; and which the sacrificial system of Jews and Gentiles proves that all the nations of the earth credited.

As Caiaphas was high priest, his opinion was of most weight with the council; therefore God put these words in his mouth rather than into the mouth of any other of its members. It was a maxim among the Jews that no prophet ever knew the purport of his own prophecy, Moses and Isaiah excepted. They were in general organs by which God chose to speak.

Verse 52

Verse 52. And not for that nation only, c.] These, and the preceding words in John 11:51, are John's explication of what was prophetic in the words of Caiaphas: as if John had said, He is indeed to die for the sins of the Jewish nation, but not for theirs alone, but for the sins of the whole world: see his own words afterwards, 1 John 2:1-2.

Gather together in one — That he should collect into one body-form one Church out of the Jewish and Gentile believers.

Children of God that were scattered abroad. — Probably John only meant the Jews who were dispersed among all nations since the conquest of Judea by the Romans; and these are called the dispersed, John 7:35, and James 1:1; and it is because he refers to these only, that he terms them here, the children of God, which was an ancient character of the Jewish people: see Deuteronomy 32:5; Isaiah 43:6; Isaiah 45:11; Jeremiah 32:1. Taking his words in this sense, then his meaning is this: that Christ was to die, not only for the then inhabitants of Judea, but for all the Jewish race wheresoever scattered; and that the consequence would be, that they should be all collected from their various dispersions, and made one body. This comports with the predictions of St. Paul: Romans 11:1-32. This probably is the sense of the passage; and though, according to this interpretation, the apostle may seem to confine the benefits of Christ's death to the Jewish people only, yet we find from the passage already quoted from his first epistle, that his views of this subject were afterwards very much extended; and that he saw that Jesus Christ was not only a propitiation for their sins (the Jews) but for the sins of the whole world: see his 1st epistle, chap. 2. ver. 2. 1 John 2:2 All the truths of the Gospel were not revealed at once, even to the apostles themselves.

Verse 53

Verse 53. They took counsel together — συνεβουλευσαντο, they were of one accord in the business, and had fully made up their minds on the subject; and they waited only for a proper opportunity to put him to death.

Verse 54

Verse 54. Walked no more openly — παρρησια, He did not go as before through the cities and villages, teaching, preaching, and healing the sick.

Near to the wilderness — Some MSS. add, of Samphourein, or Samphourim, or Sapfurim.

A city chilled Ephraim — Variously written in the MSS., Ephraim, Ephrem, Ephram, and Ephratha. This was a little village, situated in the neighbourhood of Bethel; for the scripture, 2 Chronicles 13:19, and Josephus, War, b. iv. c. 8. s. 9, join them both together. Many believe that this city or village was the same with that mentioned, 1 Macc. 5:46; 2 Macc. 12:27. Joshua gave it to the tribe of Judah, Joshua 15:9; and Eusebius and Jerome say it was about twenty miles north of Jerusalem.

And there continuedCalmet says, following Toynard, that he stayed there two months, from the 24th of January till the 24th of March.

Verse 55

Verse John 11:55. The Jews' passover was nigh at hand — It is not necessary to suppose that this verse has any particular connection with the preceding. Most chronologists agree that our Lord spent at least two months in Ephraim. This was the last passover which our Lord attended; and it was at this one that he suffered death for the salvation of a lost world. As the passover was nigh, many of the inhabitants of Ephraim and its neighbourhood went up to Jerusalem, some time (perhaps seven or eight days, for so much time was required to purify those who had touched the dead) before the feast, that they might purify themselves, and not eat the passover otherwise than prescribed in the law. Many of the country people, in the time of Hezekiah, committed a trespass by not attending to this: see 2 Chronicles 30:18-19. Those mentioned in the text wished to avoid this inconvenience.

Verse 56

Verse John 11:56. Then sought they for Jesus — Probably those of Ephraim, in whose company Christ is supposed to have departed for the feast, but, having stayed behind, perhaps at Jericho, or its vicinity, the others had not missed him till they came to the temple, and then inquired among each other whether he would not attend the feast. Or the persons mentioned in the text might have been the agents of the high priest, &c., and hearing that Christ had been at Ephraim, came and inquired among the people that came from that quarter, whether Jesus would not attend the festival, knowing that he was punctual in his attendance on all the Jewish solemnities.

Verse 57

Verse John 11:57. Had given a commandment — Had given order; εντολην, positive order, or injunction, and perhaps with a grievous penalty, that no one should keep the place of his residence a secret. This was their hour, and the power of darkness; and now they are fully determined to take away his life. The order here spoken of was given in consequence of the determination of the council, mentioned John 11:48-53.

CHRIST'S sympathy and tenderness, one of the principal subjects in this chapter, have already been particularly noted on John 11:33. His eternal power and Godhead are sufficiently manifested in the resurrection of Lazarus. The whole chapter abounds with great and important truths, delivered in language the most impressive and edifying. In the whole of our Lord's conduct in the affair of Lazarus and his sisters, we find majesty, humanity, friendship, and sublime devotion, blended in the most intimate manner, and illustrating each other by their respective splendour and excellence. In every act, in every word, we see GOD manifested in the FLESH: - Man in all the amiableness and charities of his nature; GOD in the plenitude of his power and goodness. How sublime is the lesson of instruction conveyed by the words, Jesus wept! The heart that feels them not must be in the gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity, and consequently lost to every generous feeling.

On the quotation from Virgil, on the 50th verse, a learned friend has sent me the following lines.

My dear Sir, - I have observed that in one part of your Commentary you quote these words of Virgil, Unum pro multis dabitur caput; and you are of opinion that Virgil here recognizes the doctrine of atonement. There is a passage in Lucan where this doctrine is exhibited more clearly and fully. It is in the second book, v. 306. Cato, in a speech to Brutus, declares his intention of fighting under the standard of Pompey, and then expresses the following sentiment:-

O utinam, coelique Deis Erebique liberet,

Hoc caput in cunctas damnatum exponere poenas!

Devotum hostiles Decium pressere catervae:

Me geminae figant acies, me barbara telis

Rheni turba petat: cunctis ego pervius hastis

Excipiam medius totius vulnera belli.

Hic redimat sanguis populos: hac caede luatur,

Quidquid Romani meruerunt pendere mores.

O, were the gods contented with my fall,

If Cato's life could answer for you all,

Like the devoted Decius would I go,

To force from either side the mortal blow,

And for my country's sake wish to be thought her foe.

To me, ye Romans, all your rage confine,

To me, ye nations from the barbarous Rhine,

Let all the wounds this war shall make be mine.

Open my vital streams, and let them run;

O, let the purple sacrifice atone,

For all the ills offending Rome hath done!


A little after,John 11:0v. 377, Lucan portrays the character of Cato with a very masterly hand; but he applies expressions to a mortal which are applicable to Christ alone.

Uni quippe vacat, studiisque odiisque carenti,

Humanum lugere genus.

The golden mean unchanging to pursue;

Constant to keep the purposed end in view;

Religiously to follow nature's laws;

And die with pleasure in his country's cause,

To think he was not for himself design'd,

But born to be of use to all mankind.


Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on John 11". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/john-11.html. 1832.
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