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Bible Commentaries
John 11

Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentMahan's Commentary

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Verses 1-16

He whom thou lovest is sick

John 11:1-16

John 11:1 . The town of Bethany was about two miles from Jerusalem. Christ was not at this time in Judea but was probably in Galilee. Bethany was the town where Mary, Martha, and their brother, Lazarus, lived. The Lord knew and loved this family, having been in their home before (Luke 10:38-39). Lazarus was very ill.

John 11:2 . In this verse John identifies Mary, which is necessary because there were several women called by that name. John says that she is the woman of Mark 14:3-9; and he will give his own account of the story in John 12:1-8 and add what Matthew and Mark did not mention, ‘and wiped his feet with her hair.’

John 11:3 . The sisters sent word to the Lord Jesus that Lazarus was sick. They did not plead their merit nor that of their brother. They said nothing of their kindnesses to Christ when he had been the guest in their home; nor did they instruct the Lord as to what he should do, though it is evident that they desired his help. What they did plead was his love, his goodness, and his particular affection for Lazarus. ‘He whom thou lovest is sick.’ They did not try to obligate the Lord by saying, ‘He who loves you is sick.’

John 11:4 . Our Lord knew that Lazarus would die and that he would raise him from the dead. We know that what the Lord was saying here is, ‘This illness will not terminate the life of Lazarus on earth (which is our ordinary notion of death the separation of soul and body until the resurrection), but God has sent this illness and experience that he might be glorified in his Son's raising Lazarus from the grave.’ God is glorified when the Son is glorified (John 17:1), and Christ is glorified when his divine power is manifested and men acknowledge him to be who he is!

John 11:5-6 . Though the Lord loved Lazarus and his sisters with a tender love, he did not go immediately to them either to cure Lazarus or to comfort the sisters, but stayed two more days where he was. The ways of God are sometimes strange to us, but we must not judge his love to us and his care of us by outward circumstances. These trials are for our good, to prove and strengthen faith and to glorify our God and accomplish his eternal purposes.

‘His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.’

John 11:7-8 . After two days were over and Lazarus was dead, the Lord said to the disciples, ‘Let us go into Judea again.’ They did not know that Lazarus was dead, nor did they understand that the Lord Jesus MUST go to Jerusalem to suffer and die to redeem them (Matthew 16:21-22); so they objected to his going back to the place where the Jews had only recently tried to stone him.

John 11:9-10 . There are, on the average, twelve hours in a day. If a man walks about and does his work during the daylight hours (allotted for work), he will not stumble over obstacles because he can see. But if he tries to work at night (especially in a country where there was no artificial light), he will stumble and be hindered in many ways. What he meant was this: ‘The time given me by my Father, to accomplish my earthly ministry and redemptive work, is definitely fixed as the hours of daylight (John 9:4). This time cannot be lengthened by you, my friends, nor shortened by my enemies. My time on earth is fixed in God's eternal decree. If I walk in the light and time of his purpose, I do his will. If I do not, it is evident there is no light in me.’ (Acts 4:27-28.)

John 11:11-13 . The death of believers is often compared to sleep (Genesis 47:30; Matthew 27:52; Acts 7:60; 1 Thessalonians 4:13). This comparison is very appropriate because in Christ we expect a glorious awakening in that great day. Lazarus' resurrection is a picture of our resurrection, for like him we shall rise. This sleep of the believer is not a state of unconsciousness or soul-sleep. The body sleeps, but the soul is with the Lord (Luke 16:19-23; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-23). ‘I go to raise Lazarus from the dead,’ which he calls awaking him. The disciples still did not understand, and so they said, ‘Lord, if he is asleep, it will be good for his illness and he will probably recover.’

John 11:14-15 . Then the Lord declared plainly to them, ‘Lazarus is dead.’ ‘I am glad for your sakes, that I was not there; for if I had been there, I would have healed him and you would have witnessed another miracle of healing. But now Lazarus is dead and will be in the grave several days before we arrive. The miracle of resurrection from the dead will be performed for the glory of God and for your sakes, that you may believe that I am the Son of God and the true Messiah’ (John 20:31).

John 11:16 . This is the Thomas who, to the last, showed greater difficulty in believing than the other disciples (John 20:25). In the spirit of despondency and yet devotion to his beloved Master, the doubting disciple said, ‘Let us go to Jerusalem also that we may die with Him’ not with Lazarus, but with Jesus! He felt that the Lord Jesus would certainly be killed in Jerusalem. I know that, with the others, he left Christ and fled; but this was not his intention at this time (Matthew 26:35).

Verses 17-32

I am the resurrection and the life

John 11:17-32

John 11:17-19 . According to his own will and purpose, our Lord remained where he was when he was told that Lazarus was sick until Lazarus had died and was buried. When he finally came to the outskirts of Bethany (John 11:30), Lazarus had been in the grave four days. John makes special mention of this in order to stress the magnitude of the miracle. The body of Lazarus was already decaying and decomposing (John 11:39). Bethany was only about two miles from Jerusalem, and many of the Jews had come there to mourn with the sisters. The Jews had a custom to mourn for friends for certain days (Numbers 20:29; Deuteronomy 34:8). The length of the mourning period probably was determined by the person's importance, but all had their day.

John 11:20 . It seems from the story in Luke 10:38-42 that Martha was the older of the two women and had the care of the house upon her, so the news of Christ's coming came to her first. She went out to meet him while Mary (quieter and more reserved) remained in the house (Luke 10:39).

John 11:21-22 . Martha said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ Mary said the same thing when she approached Christ later (John 11:32). They knew that Christ could heal all manner of disease. They probably had said this over and over to one another while Lazarus was sick, ‘Oh, if only Jesus were here; why doesn't he come?’ ‘But,’ Martha added, ‘I know (I believe and am sure) that even now, whatsoever you ask of God, God will give it to you!’ She did not openly ask Christ to raise her brother from the dead, but this is certainly what she had in mind. Whether she believed Christ himself to be God, at least she did believe him to be a prophet sent from God and able to do all things.

John 11:23 . The Lord, in the simplest possible manner, said to her, ‘Your brother shall rise again.’ He told the disciples that Lazarus's sickness was not unto final death but for the glory of God. He came there to raise him from the dead, and this is what he is saying to Martha.

John 11:24 . Mary did not understand what he was saying. She, being a student of the scriptures and a disciple of Christ, believed that the dead would rise from the graves at the last day. And this is what she declared when she said, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection.’ She found comfort in this, as do all of God's people (Psalms 16:9-11; Psalms 17:15; Job 19:25-27; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2).

John 11:25-26 . Here is where we need to camp for awhile. Christ replied, ‘I AM the resurrection and the life.’ ‘I AM the source, cause, and fountain of eternal life, hence the cause of resurrection.’ Because he is God, because he lives, because he is our surety, righteousness, and redemption we live! Because in him dwells all the full, blessed life of God, then we are complete in him. Because he lives, we live. Life and resurrection is not only an experience Christ purchases and bestows, but he is our life (Colossians 3:4). We can no more die and perish than he can. If one believes and is in Christ, though his body is in the grave, he is not dead; he lives, for he is one with Christ. This is one of the seven great ‘I AM's’ in John (John 6:35; John 8:12; John 10:9; John 11:25; John 14:6; John 15:5). It is by faith that Christ is received and known. It is through faith in him that the believer rests and receives all things (Romans 4:20-25). The Lord turned Martha's thoughts from doctrine to himself. The doctrines of salvation, resurrection, and eternal life are understood ONLY in the light of his person and work (1 John 5:20). Our Lord is the resurrection and the life in person (John 1:3-4; 1 John 5:11). Do you believe this?

John 11:27 . Martha's confession is similar to Peter's in Matthew 16:16 and the eunuch's in Acts 8:37. ‘Yes, Lord, it is a settled conviction of my heart that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which, according to the scriptures, should come into the world’ (1 Timothy 1:15; Galatians 4:4-5; Luke 19:10; Romans 10:9-10). The fact that Martha wavered a little later (John 11:39) does not alter the fact that she believed him. Peter had a similar experience in Matthew 14:28-30. Our eyes are not always on Christ. Sometimes we are turned in the direction of the dead flesh.

John 11:28-31 . Evidently the Lord Jesus told Martha to tell Mary to come out to Him, for she went back to the house and privately told Mary that the Master had come to the town and was asking for her. Mary arose quickly and went out to the place where Martha had met with the Lord. When the mourners saw Mary leave the house, they thought that she was going to the grave of Lazarus; so they followed her.

John 11:32 . When Mary saw the Lord Jesus, she fell weeping at his feet. Mary's faith, love, and devotion to Christ are so evident in every account of her (Luke 10:39-42; John 12:2-3). While she repeated what Martha had said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother had not died,’ nevertheless, there she was at his feet in love, reverence, and worship. Oh, that we might be found at all times at his feet!

Verses 33-44

Lazarus, come forth

John 11:33-44

John 11:33-34 . The Lord Jesus saw Mary weeping at his feet. She could say no more after her comment in John 11:32 only weep! He saw the Jews who were with her weeping, either through sympathy or hypocritically. He thought of the sin of the creature, which is the cause of sorrow and grief, and he groaned or was deeply moved in the spirit. This shows again that our Lord had a real human soul, subject to passions, though without sin (Hebrews 4:15-16). As omniscient God, he knew where Lazarus lay; but he asked them, ‘Where have you laid him?’

John 11:35 . As they were walking along to the grave, the Lord Jesus wept. Who is to say what his thoughts were as they walked along? He thought of Lazarus, of the grief of the sisters, of the unbelief of the multitude, and even of the lack of faith upon the part of his friends. Three times in the New Testament we read of our Lord's weeping (John 11:35; Luke 19:41; Hebrews 5:7). Are his tears not tears of pity and sympathy? And are his tears, not always, somehow, connected with sin and unbelief?

John 11:36-38 . The Jews did not understand the deeper cause of his grief, but they concluded from his tears that he in truth did love Lazarus. But some of them drew a worse conclusion and one that questioned the character and claims of Christ. They said, ‘This is the man who opened the eyes of the blind. Why did he not save his friend from death and heal him?’ This is much like the mockery at the cross when they said, ‘He saved others; himself he cannot save.’ They continually looked for ways to discredit and doubt him. His groaning in himself might indicate a holy anger and indignation at the wickedness and malice of the religious Jews. The body of Lazarus lay in a cave with a stone over the entrance.

John 11:39 . Our Lord commanded them to roll away the stone. He could have easily commanded the stone to roll away, but our Lord avoids all theatrics and show and uses means to accomplish his purposes. What an example of simplicity, power, and authority! Martha, who was always ‘careful about many things,’ probably thought he intended only to view the body (not raise him) and therefore objected to having the stone rolled away; for she said, ‘He has been dead four days and the smell will be offensive.’ Can this be the same one who said earlier, ‘Even now, what you ask of God, God will give you?’ (John 11:22). Her faith certainly wavered at the prospect of opening the tomb.

John 11:40 . Her objection was followed by his kind rebuke and reminder of what he had said earlier. I'm sure someone told her what he said in John 11:4 about Lazarus' illness not being unto death but for the glory of God; also in John 11:23 he said, ‘Thy brother shall rise again;’ and in John 11:25-26 he said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me shall never die; do you believe this?’ All of this is summarized in these words, ‘If you would believe, you would see the glory of God.’ The performing of this miracle did not depend on Martha's exercise of faith; Christ intended to raise Lazarus for his glory. What he is saying to Martha is that if she would get her eyes off the corpse and the flesh and rivet her attention on Christ, trusting Him, believing Him, she would see the greater glory of God revealed in Christ. Faith sees in him the power and the wisdom of God and rejoices (John 11:4; Psalms 63:1-2; 2 Corinthians 4:6).

John 11:41-42 . After they had rolled away the stone, our Lord lifted up his eyes (the throne of God being in heaven, John 17:1). He said, ‘Father’ (not ‘our Father,’ for God is his Father in a unique sense, John 1:14, John 3:16) ‘I thank thee that thou hast heard me.’ He refers not only to this matter of raising Lazarus but to the fact the Father always hears Him, for they are one in all things. The Father wills what the Son wills, and the Son wills nothing but what the Father wills. So then it is impossible that the Father should not hear and grant the will of the Son. His prayer was for the benefit of the people who stood by, that they might believe Christ and believe that the Father sent Christ. For if the Father had not sent Jesus, he would not be the Christ and the Father would not hear him in anything. All of this was full proof and evidence of his person and divine work.

John 11:43-44 . He called Lazarus by name to distinguish him from the rest of the dead. ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ It was the voice of Christ our Lord that brought forth the dead. It is his word and power which give life to those who are spiritually dead and to those who are physically dead (John 4:25-29; Ephesians 2:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). It was the custom to wrap the dead in strips of linen with a napkin about the face (John 19:40). So Lazarus came forth as they had laid him in the tomb. Our Lord said, ‘Unwind the cloth and set him at liberty to go to his house.’ The glory of God, the revelation of his power, love, and redemption, were there for all to see. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself; God was in Christ having mercy on the helpless; God was in Christ giving life to the dead. Believe in him!

There are two ways in which the Lord Jesus is to his people the resurrection and the life: in purchasing our redemption from the wages of sin by paying himself the full price that divine justice demanded, and by making us one with himself, who is the very life of all being (John 14:6; John 17:21). The believer is in Christ by the choice of the Father, by the headship and redemptive work of the Son, and by a living union. So as he lives, we live; and this experience of Lazarus will someday be ours when the Lord Jesus brings us forth from the grave to die no more (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).

Verses 45-57

Christ our substitu t e

John 11:45-57

The miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead strengthened the faith of Mary, Martha, and the disciples, increased the hatred and bitterness of the Jewish leaders who plotted his death, caused many of the Jews to believe on Him, and caused much talk and excitement in Jerusalem among the Passover crowds.

John 11:45 . These Jews had come to the house to comfort the sisters: and, accompanying them to the grave with the Lord, they saw the things which the Lord had done and truly believed on him to be the Messiah. What Christ said to the Pharisees in John 10:37-38 certainly applied to them; they judged his claims to be valid by the works which he did.

John 11:46 . But some who witnessed the miracle were more hardened with malice and envy and ran immediately to the Pharisees in Jerusalem to accuse him and to further stir up their anger. While some believed because of what they heard and saw, others were hardened in their unbelief. This is experienced where the gospel is preached (2 Corinthians 2:14-16; Acts 28:24).

John 11:47-48 . The Pharisees called together a council of the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the chief priests, which went under the name of the Sanhedrin. Caiaphas, the high priest, the president of the court, was among them. The question to consider concerned this man, Jesus of Nazareth. ‘What can we do, for this fellow is performing many miracles? If we don't do something to do away with Him, everyone will believe on him as the political Messiah: and the Romans, hearing about this new Jewish king, will come with their armies (for the Romans will look upon this as a threat to Caesar) and destroy our temple, our religion, our offices, and our city.’ They feared the loss also of what little power, authority, and distinction they had as Jewish leaders.

John 11:49-50 . Caiaphas, the high priest, spoke up and said, ‘You are a group of ignorant fools to sit disputing and arguing about this fellow Jesus. What is to be done is quite obvious. Kill this man without further ado. It matters not who he is nor what he does nor what is lawful or right. It is reasonable and sensible for this man to die, innocent or not, that the whole nation be not destroyed. Follow Jesus and the nation perishes; put Jesus to death and the nation will be saved.’

John 11:51-52 . Caiaphas spoke from his own wicked heart, but the Spirit of God preached the glorious gospel of substitution and redemption through him. He occupied the office of high priest between God and the people, though himself a wicked man; and without becoming aware of it, the villain became a prophet to declare the substitutionary work of our Lord. Yes, indeed! The Lord Jesus would die for the ‘holy nation,’ the ‘chosen generation,’ the ‘Israel of God’ (Romans 11:26), and for all believers in every tribe and nation (Isaiah 53:4-6; Isaiah 53:10-12). He died that we might not die (John 10:14-16; 1 John 2:2). It is true that if the Lord Jesus does not die, we shall die eternally. The Son of man MUST be lifted up. Two words must be learned if we are to understand the gospel substitution and satisfaction! Christ, our substitute, endured the wrath, punishment, and guilt of our sins before the law and justice of God. He made full and complete atonement and satisfaction for all the sins of all believers before God, in order that God may be both just and Justifier (Romans 3:26). Therefore, being justified, we have peace with God. Christ died and lives eternally; therefore, we shall not die but shall live eternally with him.

John 11:53 . These men had met and discussed this before; but now upon the word of the high priest, they were more intent than ever to put him to death. The high priest had satisfied their consciences.

John 11:54 . Our Lord, knowing that the time designated in God's eternal plan for his death had not fully arrived, no longer walked about openly from place to place among the Jews but departed to the country near the desert to a city called Ephraim, a small out-of-the-way place.

John 11:55 . This was the fourth Passover from Christ's entrance into his public ministry and the last he ate with his disciples. This was also the last Passover; for Christ, by his sacrifice, put an end to this and all other ceremonial observances (Hebrews 10:9-14). Many of the Jews went up early to the Passover to cleanse or purify themselves and be ready to observe the Passover (Exodus 19:10-15; Numbers 9:9-14: John 18:28).

John 11:56-57 . The country people who had heard of him (or had seen him and heard him preach) began to inquire of his whereabouts. ‘Will he come to Jerusalem?’ Some asked out of curiosity to see and hear Him, others wanted to see his miracles, and perhaps some were interested in him and what he had to say. But the chief priests and Pharisees had one thing in mind to arrest him and put him to death. They issued orders to all that if any man saw him or knew where he was, he was to report to them, that they might take him.

Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on John 11". Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hms/john-11.html. 2013.
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