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Bible Commentaries
John 11

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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This entire chapter deals with the resurrection of Lazarus, the seventh of the great signs. We do not wish to accommodate with those who deny this miracle as a historical event, such denials being satanic in origin, unsustained by historical refutation, and so contrary to all reason as to require greater faith in believing the denials than is required for believing the gospel record.

The resurrection of Lazarus is omitted from the synoptics; but if that is a reason for denying it, then the omission by John of the other two instances of Jesus’ raising the dead is grounds for denying them! Why was this sign omitted from the other Gospels? (1) The synoptics reported the miracles done in Galilee. (2) Lazarus was still alive when the synoptics were written, and it would have endangered his life to have included this miracle, the Sanhedrin being determined to put him to death (John 12:10). (3) It might have endangered the soul of Lazarus. He had already won the crown of life but was recalled to all the dangers of mortal existence with potential consequences so grave that Jesus wept at the contemplation of his recall. Widespread publication of this miracle during Lazarus’ second lifetime would have been an additional hazard to him. He is presumed to have been deceased at the time John wrote. (4) The most convincing reason of all was outlined by Ryle, thus:

Each evangelist was inspired to record what God saw to be best and most suitable. No one, I suppose, imagines that the evangelists recorded a tenth part of our Lord’s miracles, or that there were not other dead persons raised to life, of whom we know nothing at all (John 21:25).(F1)

The inspired writers were not governed by ordinary rules and were unaffected by considerations which uninspired men would have honored; and this is nowhere more evident, than in the selection of materials for their writings. It is a marvel that the inspired men would have recorded the martyrdom of the apostle James with only seven words (in the Greek) and devoted nine verses to the undisturbed grave-clothes. The Gospels defy the arrogance of men who seek to understand them apart from their inspired origin.

Another device for denying this miracle is that of making it a fiction, invented by John to make a point. Richardson wrote:

Luke related a parable of Jesus in which it was declared that, even if someone returned from the dead, the unbelieving Jews would not repent (Luke 16:19-31). John turns the saying into a story in which someone actually does return from the dead — and the Jews do not repent. Significantly, the name of the person who has died in each story is Lazarus!(F2)

Lazarus was a common name, then as now; and the device of supposing that John invented a fable based on Luke’s parable, with the presumed PROOF of such a thing appearing in the name of Lazarus (common to both passages), is fantastic and preposterous. It is precisely this type of "explanation" which is the disgrace of some of the schools of Biblical interpretation. If Lazarus’ resurrection was not historical, how does one explain the fact that the event has been commemorated for nineteen centuries and perpetuated in the name of the village where it happened? "Bethany is called `El Azeriyeh,’ meaning `The Place of Lazarus.’"(F3) If this memorializes nothing more than John’s "drama," behold a greater than Shakespeare is here! To suppose that a fisherman of Galilee could have written any such drama requires more faith than believing the miracle.

All efforts to discredit this narrative perish in the overwhelming gospel history of the event, so complete, so thoroughly in balance, so exactly fitted to the historical matrix in which it is embedded, and so thoroughly believable. Nobody, but nobody, ever invented an event like this. As Dummelow said:

The last and greatest of the seven "signs" recorded in John is related with such photographic minuteness of detail, that it is clear that the evangelist was present. Three points about it are especially noteworthy: (1) that it was a physical miracle, which no ingenuity can reduce to a case of faith-healing; (2) that it was definitely worked to produce faith in Christ (John 11:42); and (3) that, more than any other miracle, it was performed under test conditions; — Lazarus was really dead (John 11:39), and hostile witnesses were present (John 11:42).(F4)

Added to the logical reasons given by Dummelow is the logical progression of the entire Gospel to the climax of this seventh sign. Jesus had said that "greater things" than healing the invalid would be done by himself, and that such a "greater" work would be the occasion of those very men’s marveling at it (John 5:20). Furthermore, that very promise was accompanied by a statement that the Son of God had power to raise all the dead who ever lived (John 5:25-29). Thus nearly two whole years previously to this, Jesus had announced what he would do and named the witnesses before whom it would be done (the Pharisees and priests) and that they would "marvel."

Verse 1


Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, of the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

Specifics with reference to Lazarus were necessary due to the common nature of the name; therefore, members of his family were named to make identification certain and also in view of their own importance in the Gospel records.

Of Bethany … distinguishes Lazarus from others of the same name; and "of the village of Mary and … Martha …" distinguishes which Bethany was meant. This one was less than two miles from Jerusalem; the other was fifty miles away beyond the Jordan River. Some see this and the next verse as certain proof that John was familiar with the text of Luke 10:38-42, where the two sisters are named together, and that of Mark 14:3-9, where the anointing is recorded.(F5)

Verse 2

And it was that Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.

We are not primarily concerned here with the distinction between various Mary’s mentioned in the New Testament. Identification of this Mary with the gross sinner who bathed the Lord’s feet with her tears in the house of Simon the Pharisee is rejected. There were at least two anointings of Jesus, possibly three; and the Roman Catholic interpretation of melding all three into one is without doubt incorrect. John here identified this Mary with the one in Mark 14:3-9, the event recorded there taking place in the home of Simon the leper; and there is no basis for supposing that he was the same as Simon the Pharisee.

Verse 3

The sisters therefore sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.

As Barnes observed:

The transactions recorded in this chapter occurred nearly four months after those mentioned in the previous chapter; those occurred in December, and these at the approach of the Passover in April.(F6)

These sisters did not say to Jesus: "Do something; heal our brother; come quickly," or any such thing. Their conduct was like that of Hezekiah who spread Sennacherib’s insulting letter before the Lord in the temple (2 Kings 19:14). Like Hezekiah, they left the handling of the emergency totally in the hands of the Lord.

Verse 4

But when Jesus heard it, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thereby.

Not unto death … meant that death would not be the end of the matter, but that the Son of God would be glorified in the event. This was evidently uttered in the presence of the messenger who brought Jesus the word of Lazarus’ sickness; and there is every reason to believe that he reported this observation of Jesus to the sisters (John 11:40).

Verse 5

Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.

Jesus loves all of his followers as individuals, and not merely in groups or families; hence, it is recorded not that Jesus loved the Lazarus family, but that he loved Martha, and Mary, and Lazarus. All who love Jesus may write their own names in the sequence with perfect confidence.

Verse 6

When therefore he heard that he was sick, he abode at that time two days in the place where he was.

Westcott is doubtless correct in maintaining that:

The supposition that the interval was left in order that the Lord might raise the dead instead of heal the sick, and so show greater power and win greater glory, is alien equally from the spirit and from the letter of the narrative.(F7)

The journey from Bethany to where Jesus was would have required at least a day; and thus Lazarus died when the message came. Jesus knew already of Lazarus’ death and did not wait for it, using the next two days to finish the work at hand.

Verses 7-8

Then after this he saith to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. The disciples said unto him, Rabbi, the Jews were but now seeking to stone thee: and goest thou thither again?

After this … means after the two days delay after receiving the message of Lazarus’ illness.

The disciples said unto him … This shows that the apostles had been with Jesus throughout the events related in these chapters and were thus eyewitnesses of all that he did. They were astounded that Christ would incur the risk of going back to the vicinity of Jerusalem.

Verses 9-10

Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If a man walketh in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because the light is not in him.

Twelve hours in a day… This means that the days of life will be continued sufficiently for life’s work. Jesus’ enemies could not murder him until the hour arrived for his death, an hour appointed by the Father.

As Henry stated it:

Man’s life is a day … The consideration of this should make us not only very busy, as to the work of life, but also very easy as to the perils of life; our day shall be lengthened out until our work is done, and our testimony finished.(F8)

Thus, if Jesus had yielded to the fears of his disciples, ignoring the manifest will of the Father that he go and raise Lazarus from the dead, it would have been to walk in the night, and to stumble. The light which men receive is from God and should be followed without regard to considerations of human wisdom and prudence alone. In this light, it is clear that Jesus undertook the raising of Lazarus as a direct heavenly assignment, in full harmony with God’s will, and in obedience to it. (See John 11:4.)

Verse 11

These things spake he: and after this he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus is fallen asleep; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep.


Lazarus is fallen asleep … Of all that Jesus ever said of death, this is the most encouraging. (1) Sleep is a temporary thing; and so by this our Lord revealed that death too is not permanent. (2) Sleep refreshes and rejuvenates; thus in the resurrection this mortal shall put on immortality and this corruptible shall put on incorruption. (3) From sleep, men awaken; and the promise is secure in the Master’s words that all that are in the tombs "shall come forth" (John 5:29). (4) Sleep is a time of rest; and the dead also "shall rest from their labors" (Revelation 14:13). The respect of the human race for this word of Jesus Christ is revealed in the fact of their inscribing these words, "Asleep in Jesus," upon millions of tombs in all ages since then.

But I go that I may awaken him out of sleep …. Jesus never told how bad it was with men, except that in the same breath he provided the remedy. The announcement that Lazarus was dead was followed by the word that Jesus would awaken him. Jesus reveals our sin, but in the same breath offers pardon, salvation, and eternal life.

Verse 12

The disciples therefore said unto the Lord, If he is fallen asleep he will recover.

If he is fallen asleep he will recover … regards the usual fact that when seriously ill people have passed a crisis, they sleep. There could have been the thought of the disciples that "Since he is going to get well anyway there is no need for us to go."

Verse 13

Now Jesus had spoken of his death: but they thought that he spake of his taking rest in sleep.

There was no easy way out, such as seems to have been suggested by the disciples; all of them would go to the tomb of Lazarus, and they were filled with fear at the prospect of it.

Verses 14-15

Then Jesus therefore said unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him.

Paraphrase: I am glad I was not there; if I had been, I would have yielded to the cries and entreaties of the sisters. Healing him would have been a great wonder, but raising him from the dead will be a greater one; and I am glad for this opportunity to raise your faith to a higher level.

Verse 16

Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said unto his fellow-disciples, Let us go, that we may die with him.

Gaebelein wrote:

When Thomas said this, he expressed fear that if the Lord returned to Judea he would be killed. While much has been said about "doubting Thomas," here we behold that his heart was greatly attached to the Lord Jesus Christ.(F9)

Well, it may be; but it appears also that Thomas had the gravest doubts of the Lord’s power to raise Lazarus; and, indeed, if he believed any such thing, it was surely submerged and invisible in this reply.

Verse 17

Now when Jesus came, he found that he had been in the tomb four days already.

Henry placed the healing of a blind man at Jericho and the interview with Zacchaeus within the interval between John 11:16 and John 11:17.(F10) If this was the case, it would indicate no hurry on Jesus’ part to arrive in Bethany.

Four days … According to rabbinical tradition, the soul of a deceased person hovers around the body for three days in hope of a reunion, but takes its final departure when it notices that the body has entered a state of decomposition.(F11)

He found … Jesus already knew what situation was there; thus he "found" it to be what he already knew it was.

Due to the superstition of the rabbis, cited by Hendriksen, the four days of Lazarus in the tomb were significant. Jesus removed from his enemies any such possible explanation of the resurrection of his friend Lazarus, "an explanation" they doubtless would have resorted to if it had not been removed.

Verse 18

Now Bethany was nigh to Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off.

See under John 11:1. This is mentioned to explain the presence of so many distinguished mourners.

Verse 19

And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother.

Hovey said the Greek words here rendered "Martha and Mary" are so written that they include the meaning of "with the women about them."(F12)

The usual time of mourning was about a week; and the death of a member of a wealthy, prominent, and distinguished family like that of Lazarus and his sisters accounts for the multitude of mourners.

Verse 20

Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary still sat in the house.

Martha, as the more practical of the two sisters, left the house and hastened to meet Jesus; but Mary remained shut up with her grief. Martha had risen above personal grief to assume the duties of hostess. In the light of all that has been written of these two sisters, it is not amiss to note that it is Martha who shines in this narrative. This is not to discount the Lord’s words regarding "the better part" chosen by Mary. How many noble and industrious women there are who, in the last analysis, are best described as daughters of Martha!


There’s the bed to make and the mail to meet,

The bills to pay and a guest to greet,

The phone to answer and a dress to press,

The house to order and a child to dress.

There’s the shopping list and a million things

As the duties mount and the doorbell rings;

For Martha’s daughter is a busy one,

And a woman’s work is never done.

In summer and winter and day and night,

She toils and finds in the task delight.

She heals the hurt and foils the stroke,

And proudly indeed she bears the yoke.

But toiling hands at the last are stilled,

And the toiler’s place by another’s filled;

And the better part she might have won

Is forever lost when the day is done.

— James Burton Coffman

December 4, 1965

Martha’s haste to go and meet Jesus could have sprung from her desire to speak with him first in the presence of friends, rather than before his enemies; for it must be remembered that many of the mourners were among the bitter foes of the Lord.

Verses 21-22

Martha therefore said unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here my brother had not died. And even now I know that, whatsoever thou shalt ask of God, God will give thee.

As noted above, Martha shines here. "Even now I know, etc…." meant that she had not ruled out the possibility of a resurrection; although, from some of the things she later said, it seems that she did not really expect Jesus to raise Lazarus. Still, had not the messenger brought back the word that "this sickness is not unto death"? (John 11:4). Difficult as Martha must have found it to believe such a thing, her statement here shows that she was doing her best to receive it and believe it.

If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died … This must not be understood as a complaint that the Lord had not come soon enough, for Lazarus died about the time the Lord got the message. It was an exhibition of the kind of thinking that always accompanies the death of a loved one. "If …" if we could have reached a doctor, if only the ditch had been dry, if she had only stayed at home, if she had only left the window open — a million "ifs" torment the survivors.

Verse 23

Jesus said unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.

Martha should have accepted this as assurance that Jesus would raise Lazarus; but she was not exempt from the common human failing of limiting the promises of God. She limited what he said to what she supposed he meant.

Verse 24

Martha said unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.

Although, in context, a limitation of the power of Jesus, this statement of Martha is one of tremendous hope and consolation. The intimacy of that family with the Lord gives great weight to her confidence of the resurrection at the last day. She associated the resurrection with the "last day," as conspicuously taught by Jesus; and in this instance of Martha’s knowledge, it certainly exceeds that of exegetes who deny that John’s Gospel has any teachings of the "last" things.

Verses 25-26

Jesus saith unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Believest thou this?

In this lies the full explanation of Jesus’ words, "If a man keep my word, he shall never see death" (John 8:51). Such statements of Jesus never were intended to deny the necessity of physical death. This is one of the most beloved passages in all of the sacred Scriptures.


This is the opening sentence in the litany for the dead in the Book of Common Prayer; and its healing, comforting message has echoed over millions of graves, and as bodies were buried at sea, or wherever the bereaved have turned in sorrow from the unanswering faces of their beloved dead. This statement of Christ is the great inheritance of the human family.

I. Jesus’ words here contrast a belief in a doctrine with a belief in himself. Martha found little comfort in the thought of a resurrection at the last day; but Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life." Without disparaging Christian doctrine in any sense, we may say that it is faith in a Person, even in Jesus, that makes all the difference.

II. This means Jesus is God in human form, a truth he promptly proved by raising Lazarus. Jesus had claimed Godhood as Light of the world, the Good Shepherd, the giver of eternal life, the door of the sheep, as existing before Abraham was born, and in numerous other ways. Here he appeared as Resurrection come in the flesh.

III. This means far more than an assertion of Jesus’ power to raise Lazarus, extending to all the dead who ever lived (John 5::24-29). The "Come forth," shortly to be sounded over Lazarus’ grave, is the same cry that shall awaken all the dead on earth.

IV. In this appears what is meant by "shall not see death." The Lord has not abolished physical death, but its significance, having made it a beginning instead of an end. As Hunter said, "The Christian will of course pay the last debt to nature; but, because of that saving link with Christ, the physical death he must one day experience loses all reality."(F13)

Believest thou this …? Jesus probed Martha’s heart to bring out her faith; and her announcement of it was as great as any apostle’s.

Verse 27

She saith unto him, Yea, Lord, I have believed that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, even he that cometh into the world.

The weight of this confession is colossal. In the words, "I have believed," is the meaning that for an extended time she had believed and that she continued to believe in Jesus as a supernatural person. She called him "Lord" and "Christ" and "Son of God" in a single breath, adding that she meant the divine Messiah, the holy One foretold from of old as coming into the world from God. What a magnificent confession!

Verse 28

And when she had said this, she went away, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Teacher is here and calleth thee.

As Barnes observed, Jesus probably directed Martha to do this: "Though the evangelist has not recorded it, for she said to Mary, `The Teacher is here and calleth thee.’"(F14) The use of the title "Teacher" by a family so close to the Lord indicates that it was a common one among the disciples.

Secretly … There is no evidence that Jesus instructed secrecy in this call of Mary; but Martha discreetly understood that it might not be proper to let Jesus’ enemies know that he had arrived.

Verse 29

And she, when she heard it, arose quickly, and went unto him.

Speculations as to why Jesus did not go at once to the house of mourning, but remained at a distance, have suggested many reasons for it, the most convincing being that Jesus was at the tomb where Lazarus slept because this is where the wonder would occur. The Lord would not go to the mourners; they would come to him. The spiritual overtones of this are significant. Mary’s response was prompt and obedient.

Verse 30

(Now Jesus was not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha met him.)

This was probably at the tomb of Lazarus, but the sacred record does not so state. See under preceding verse.

Verse 31

The Jews then who were with her in the house, and were consoling her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up quickly and went out, followed her, supposing that she was going unto the tomb to weep there.

Cyril, as quoted by Westcott, noted that "The secrecy of Martha became of no avail, and so it came to pass that the work was wrought in the presence of a mixed body of spectators."(F15)

It may be assumed that Jesus had intended that this sign be performed in the presence of his foes (John 5:20); and, therefore, the following of Mary by the Jews was a providential overruling of Martha’s intention to secrecy.

Verse 32

Mary therefore, when she came where Jesus was, and saw him, fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

Mary’s unabashed worshiping of Jesus was received by him, even as he received that of the blind man (John 9:38), indicating that Jesus desired and accepted human worship, the same being another proof of his identity with God.

Lord if thou hadst been here, etc. … These were also the words of Martha, showing that the sisters had often spoken thus to each other during Lazarus’ illness.

Verses 33-34

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping who came with her, he groaned in the spirit and was troubled, and said, Where have ye laid him? They say unto him, Lord, come and see.

He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled … Hunter said that this is "Clear proof that Christ’s miracles were not done without cost to himself."(F16) In this connection, see also Mark 5:30.

Being moved with indignation in the spirit … is an alternative translation of this place (English Revised Version margin) and this merits attention. Of what was Jesus angry or indignant? We shall not trouble the reader with various opinions but cite the one which seems to meet the question squarely. See also under John 11:37.

Death itself caused this indignation … He saw all the agony of it in millions of instances. There flashed upon his spirit all moral consequences of which death was the ghastly symbol. He knew that within a short time he too, in taking upon himself the sins of men, would have taken upon himself their death; and there was enough to raise in his spirit a divine indignation, and he groaned and shuddered.(F17)

Lord, come and see … Here is the place where the progression to the tomb is recorded; but this does not preclude the possibility that all of them were already at the cemetery, though not exactly at the tomb.

Verses 35-36

Jesus wept. The Jews therefore said, Behold how he loved him.

The weeping of Jesus is another mystery. Was it merely the sympathetic reaction to the grief and sorrow of loved ones, or was there some deeper reason for it? Our Lord was about to call back to our world of temptation and sin a valiant soldier who had already won the crown of life; and, in such a thing, there was an undeniable danger to the soul of Lazarus. The prospect of Lazarus again facing life with its inevitable dangers to the soul, and particularly with the additional burden that would be imposed by his resurrection (for the Pharisees would try to kill him) — all such considerations are of such profound weight that they may be rightly viewed as plunging the Son of God into tears as he thought of them.

Verse 37

But some of them said, Could not this man who opened the eyes of him that was blind, have caused that this man also should not die?

The attitude of such men as the ones quoted in this verse may afford another explanation of the indignation discussed under John 11:34. Those hypocrites who had so stoutly opposed admitting that any miracle had occurred in the healing of the blind man appear here as perfectly willing to admit it if it can be made a tool of slander in the present case. There were two classes of witnesses: (1) Some said, "Look how he loved him!" (2) Others said, "Well, here is certainly a man he could not heal, no matter about the man born blind!"

Verse 38

Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone lay against it.

Being moved with indignation in himself … is again the marginal reading (English Revised Version (1885)) for the first clause; and its being mentioned so closely in connection with the attitude of those quoted in John 11:37 is a strong suggestion that such was the cause of it, or at least partially so.

Verse 39

Jesus saith, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time the body decayeth; for he hath been dead four days.

Take ye away the stone … Jesus never did for any man what the man might do for himself. His divine power could have caused the stone to roll back of its own accord; but he commanded that men move it. The same principle is evident in the commandment a little later to "Loose him, and let him go." Here, as always, there was respect for the heavenly economy. The wonders of Jesus were never wholesale and capricious displays of supernatural power, but were calculated, ordered, and fully in harmony with God’s highest laws of dealing with mankind. As Welshimer said, "God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and God never does what we are able to do. This is seen in both the natural and spiritual realms."(F18)

Martha … Like Peter who walked on the sea, Martha at first believed and then faltered. Her remonstrance here was designed to prevent what she, in her moment of weakness, feared would be an embarrassment of the Lord. The opened grave would reveal only a decaying corpse.

Four days … See under John 11:17.

Verse 40

Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou believest, thou shouldest see the glory of God?

This mention of what Jesus had previously said to Martha was doubtless a reference to the word sent back by the messenger of Lazarus’ illness (John 11:4). Thus it is clear that men must believe the word of Christ sent by his appointed messengers (the apostles) no less than the words he spoke himself.

Said I not unto thee, that, if thou shouldest believe … Where is the soul who does not need this admonition to be repeated every day of life? In every doubt or temptation, in sorrow, suffering, or in death itself, let the redeemed say in faith, "I shall see the glory of God," that is, "if I truly believe the Lord of life."

Verses 41-42

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou heardest me always: but because of the multitude that standeth around I said it, that they may believe that thou didst send me.

They took away the stone … See under John 11:39. This second command was obeyed at once, there being no further objection from Martha.

I thank thee that thou heardest me always … All of the miracles done by Jesus, it may be supposed, were done through answer to his prayers. Jesus himself, as a Person of the Godhead, was all-powerful; but all of his earthly deeds were accomplished under the limitations of our earth life. As the great example to men, even if Jesus might have done signs without calling on the Father, it was highly appropriate for him to have done all things with constant regard of the Father’s will. Those closest to Jesus knew this, as witness the words of Martha (John 11:22), and the conclusion of the blind man (John 9:31).

That they may believe … Those who would take this word from Jesus and make it the basis of addressing admonitions to the audience in a public prayer might be justified, if they truly follow Jesus’ example by performing a miracle immediately afterward! Note too that Jesus addressed not the audience but the Father. The privilege of the multitude in hearing such a prayer, thanking God in advance for Lazarus’ resurrection, added superlative weight to the sign itself.

Verse 43

And when he had thus spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.

With a loud voice … This was not merely to awaken Lazarus but to enable the multitude to connect the cry with the raising of Lazarus. It is written that there will be a mighty "shout" at the final resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

Come forth … The final resurrection will be accomplished upon the pronouncement of this very command (John 5:20). The fact of Jesus so long previous to this sign having given the very words that he would use in doing such a wonder is very significant. This was Jesus’ greatest wonder, aside from his own resurrection.

Lazarus … Why this use of Lazarus’ name? The best comment on this ever heard by this writer was that of the country preacher in Texas who said, "If the Lord had not specified the one to be raised, Jesus’ powerful command, `Come forth,’ would have raised all the dead on earth; and it was not time for that!"

Verse 44

He that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes; and his face was bound with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.

All quibbles about how Lazarus might have been able to walk while still wrapped in the grave-clothes are on the same level of questions of how the dead in their tombs shall rise in judgment with all that weight upon them. It is not stated that Lazarus "walked out," but that he "came forth." The fiat of a divine commandment brought Lazarus out of the grave even if both of his legs were bound together, and not separately in the manner of the Egyptians. The separate binding of Lazarus’ legs has been supposed by some commentators in their gratuitous efforts to help the Lord (!) get Lazarus out after raising him FROM THE DEAD!

Loose him, and let him go … Lazarus was still bound and could not "go" unless released. See under John 11:39.

Whatever similarities exist between Lazarus’ resurrection and the resurrection of all men at the last day, there is one great difference. Lazarus did not rise "through the tomb" as Jesus did but came forth out of it horizontally to the same life he had before, still cumbered with mortality, still subject to all conditions of earthly life. The holy record makes no concession to human curiosity. Enough for all men to know that the deed here recorded was an actual historical event, memorialized in the name of the village where it occurred, reported by those who saw it as a FACT, acted upon by the highest court in the Hebrew nation as an EVENT impossible of denial, and judged by them as so powerful a wonder that they decided to slay Jesus to keep everyone on earth from believing on him!

Verse 45

Many therefore of the Jews, who came to Mary and beheld that which he did, believed on him.

Many therefore … Dummelow has noted that "The Greek, interpreted strictly, means that ALL the Jews who were present believed, and that SOME OF THEM went to the Pharisees, etc."(F19) In light of the fact that some of these "believers" decided a little later to kill Jesus, translators have softened the impact of the passage by limiting the number of believers to "many therefore." Like many other passages in the New Testament, this is another example of the tenderness with which the theory of salvation by "faith only" is guarded from every possible "misunderstanding"! The truth shines, however, that "believers," regardless of what kind of faith they have, must find something beyond it and in addition to it in order to be saved, that being the love of Christ.

Verse 46

But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done.

Those who went to the Pharisees must have gone in good faith, hoping that so convincing a sign as they had just witnessed would be sufficient to convince others in the Sanhedrin; but it was a vain hope.

Verse 47

The chief priests therefore and the Pharisees gathered a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many signs.

The hatred of Jesus by his enemies was past healing by any power; even that of raising Lazarus. The answer of the Sanhedrin to this greatest of the signs was to convene a council and formulate plans to kill Jesus, and even Lazarus also.

What do we? … means "What are we doing?" It should be noted that there was no hesitancy in their acceptance of the resurrection of Lazarus as a fact. Indeed, how could they have denied it? Many of their own number had been eyewitnesses of it; and the community knew all about it. When Satan is unable to answer an argument, his response has always been to kill the witness; that was his response here, and another example of the same is found in the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:58).

John is in full harmony with the synoptics, indicating that the chief priests (the Sadducees) led the cabal against Christ. They did so, not in opposition to the doctrine of the resurrection; for, if they had founded their opposition on that, the Pharisees would not have supported them. It was on the selfish fear of losing their power and privilege that they based their murder of the Lord; and to be sure, on that basis, the Pharisees readily supported them.

Verse 48

If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.

The testimony of Jesus’ enemies in this place is invaluable, for it declares the resurrection of Lazarus to have been an authentic event and one capable of convincing any unbiased person that Jesus was the Christ. Their motivation in killing Jesus is spelled out perfectly. They were afraid of losing their position of power and wealth, and, with characteristic blindness, identifying themselves as "the nation." Ironically, their murder of the Christ did not prevent the Romans from taking away "both their place and nation" in 70 A.D. when the armies of Vespasian and Titus sacked and destroyed the city.

Verses 49-50

But a certain one of them, Caiaphas being high priest that year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, nor do ye take account that it is expedient that one man should die for all the people, and that the whole nation perish not.

Being high priest that year … This expression does not indicate that John thought the office of high priest changed hands every year, but is a simple affirmation that in "that year," that awful year when Jesus suffered — in that year, Caiaphas was the high priest.

One man should die for the people … This was intended by Caiaphas merely as the blunt statement of a political expedient to the effect that it was better to kill Jesus than to wait until the people hailed him as the Messiah, thus bringing on them the wrath of the Romans. That bold murderous proposal must not be understood as anything either sincere or honest. The hatred of Caiaphas and others against Jesus was not founded on fear that Jesus would precipitate a conflict with the Romans, but upon the exact opposite of that, namely, because they knew that he would do no such thing. Apologists for the attitude of the Jewish priests who attempt to justify their murder of the Lord on the basis that they acted in good faith out of fear for their nation have simply failed to read the facts.

Verse 51

Now this he said not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation.

The high priest unwittingly proclaimed Christ as the true paschal lamb whose blood would atone for the sins of the world. By sacrificing Jesus, he brought about a blessing he never dreamed (the remission of sins), and compassed for the nation the very evil he sought to avert.(F20)

For another instance of governmental action resulting in authentic prophecy, see my Commentary on Hebrews, Hebrews 9:2.

Verse 52

And not for the nation only, but that he might also gather together into one the children of God that are scattered abroad.

These thoughts are an extension of Caiaphas’ prophetic words that Jesus should die for the "people." John here interpreted the words "die for the people" in a far wider frame of reference than Caiaphas ever intended. His view of "the people" was not merely limited to the Jewish nation but further restricted to mean only himself and the other evil priests who were running the establishment.

Verse 53

So from that day forth they took counsel that they might put him to death.

After the decision to murder Christ, everything else was subordinated to that objective. The hierarchy would deliberately carry it out with no regard for the sinful, illegal, and unscrupulous devices they would employ in achieving it. See under John 11:57.

Verse 54

Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews, but departed thence into the country near to the wilderness, into a city called Ephraim; and there he tarried with his disciples.

The Lord’s purpose required him to suffer at the Passover; and thus his hour had not come. Therefore he withdrew, compelling the hatred of men to await the Lord’s own choice of the occasion when he would lay down his life of his own accord for the salvation of men.

Ephraim … near to the wilderness … This is another telling word of an eyewitness. Hendriksen located this place "about fourteen miles N.N.E. of Jerusalem, about the same distance west of the Jordan River, and about eighteen miles south of Jacob’s well."(F21) How strange that the Lord of life should have spent the last months of his ministry in this out-of-the-way place.

Verse 55

Now the passover of the Jews was at hand: and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country, to purify themselves.

The passover feast, called "Rosh Hashanah" by the Jews, was attended by all the adult male population of Israel with ability to attend it. Little did the gathering throngs pressing into the capital for the great feast realize that the true and holy passover for all men would be sacrificed "that year" (to use John’s cryptic words again). To them, it was only another Passover; but to the Christians of all ages since then, it has been the one sacrifice of the True Passover for all men.

Verse 56

They sought therefore for Jesus, and spake with one another, What think ye? That he will not come to the feast?

As the time of the great feast came on and the crowds grew, the people spoke of Jesus, wondering if he would dare to come. The death sentence against him was widely known.

Verse 57

Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given commandment, that, if any man knew where he was, he should show it, that they might take him.

The hierarchy had at last tipped their hand to all the people. Long ago, they had decided to kill Christ but entertained the design secretly; but now they issued what amounted to an order of arrest. It was, however, a very unpopular decision, as attested by: (1) the events of the next chapter wherein a great company made a feast in Jesus’ honor, and (2) the revelation that the Sanhedrin, for fear of public opposition, decided to delay killing Jesus until after the Passover (Matthew 26:1-3), and (3) their decision to assassinate Jesus privately rather than risk a public execution. In the latter two decisions they were providentially overruled.

The most remarkable progression is evidenced throughout this Gospel. The event of the resurrection of Lazarus was conceived as early as the events in chapter five (John 5:20), with the subsequent steps leading logically and irrevocably to the climax of Jesus’ sign here, the raising of Lazarus being the event, more than any other, that hardened the purpose of the Sanhedrin. Their pronouncement of a death sentence against him without a hearing or a trial, the resulting order for his apprehension, the approach of the Passover when the event of his crucifixion would occur, the withdrawal of Jesus to Ephraim to await the coming of his "hour," the refusal of the people to cooperate with their evil leaders, and so, on and on these events all fit into the progression.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 11". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/john-11.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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