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Bible Commentaries
John 11

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Verses 1-3


The Lord is rejected in both His words (John 8) and in His works (John 9). He then separated from the unbelieving mass of the people’s sheep a remnant for Himself as His own sheep (John 10). He even spoke on top of that about other sheep who will form one flock with His own sheep of which He will be the Shepherd. This also means putting aside His people, His own, to whom He has come, but by whom He has not been accepted.

Before the Lord as a consequence retreats with His disciples into the upper room (John 13), God will give a new, complete and final testimony to the Lord Jesus in John 11-12. This testimony concerns His Divine Sonhood which is manifested in the power of the resurrection (John 11) and is about Him as the Son of David and as the Son of Man (John 12). These three testimonies are given publicly and close to Jerusalem.

Lazarus Is Sick

John 11, like John 9, begins by presenting a situation where we see the consequences of sin. Sickness is a consequence of sin, but the consequences here are more serious. Here it is not just sickness, but sickness that results in death. Unlike the blind man, the sick man is a friend of the Savior. It is also known where he lives. He lives in Bethany which is further referred to as “the village of Mary and her sister Martha”. This does not mean that they are in authority there, but that it is a village on which they place a special shine through their love for the Lord. He likes to come there.

John already mentions in a parentheses the special act of Mary to Christ that only takes place in the next chapter. Who has never heard of it? Her deed will be proclaimed all over the world. It concerns the brother of this special woman.

The sisters know Whom to go to with their sorrows. They know the Lord and His power to heal. They turn to Him with the message that their brother is sick. How beautifully they express their message. In the first place they do not address Him as ‘Jesus’, but as ‘Lord’. In the second place they speak to Him from the knowledge they have of His love for their brother. They do not mention a name and do not say ‘Lazarus is sick’, nor ‘he, whom we love so much, is sick’, but ‘he whom You love is sick’.

Nor do they decide for the Lord that He must come quickly or that He, where He is, must speak a word of power so that their brother may become healthy. Possibly that is locked up in the word “behold” they use. For Him Lazarus is visible and He is present with Him. He is the Omnipresent. They do not claim healing, but simply place their need before the Lord in the awareness of His love for their brother. They leave it up to Him how He will respond to this. This shows their great trust in Him.

Verses 4-6

The Lord Explains the Reason for the Sickness

When the Lord has heard the message, He speaks in complete calmness and certainty about the purpose of this sickness. He places the sickness before God and not before death. This sickness, He says, will serve for the glory of God and for the glorification of the Son of God. This is not done by healing Lazarus, but by raising him from the dead. The resurrection unfolds the glory of God in its highest way, more than anything else and with the goal that the Son of God is glorified by it. Through Him, and in this way, the law of the wages of sin is overruled. He shows that death has no power over sheep that belong to Him (John 10:28-Joel :; Romans 8:37-Zechariah :).

Before the Lord acts, John speaks of the Lord’s love for the sisters and their brother. The fact that He does not yet act immediately is therefore not a lack of His love for them. This becomes even more clear when we see that John uses the word for Godly love for the love of the Lord Jesus towards this family, while the sisters spoke to Him about His friendly love for Lazarus.

Furthermore, it is beautiful to see how God’s Spirit leads John to mention the objects of the Lord’s love separately. It is striking that Martha is mentioned here by name as loved by Him and even before her sister Mary. It also emphasizes His special love for Martha, where we might think that He did not love her as much as He loved Mary (Luke 10:38-:). The Savior is never limited in His love by prejudices that we have so often.

When He hears of the illness of Lazarus, He does not immediately go there. Someone else who had love for a sick person and had the power to heal would have acted immediately. But the Son seeks the glory of God. However, that is never at the expense of love for man. He knows what He is going to do. We must learn to trust that, especially when things seem to become irreparable.

By staying where He is for two days, the sickness is given time to lead to death and the body to undergo decay. A delay seems to make things worse, but in God’s hand a delay is an opportunity for a greater unfolding of His glory (cf. Luke 8:40-Titus :). The ‘why’ of this delay can be found in John 11:4.

The Lord could also have spoken a word, as in the case of the son of the royal official (John 4:50) and the slave of the centurion (cf. Luke 7:7-2 Samuel :), but He does not. It is striking to see how He, in the humility of an obedient Servant, allows evil to run its course until the will of His Father calls Him to deal with the power of Satan.

Verses 7-10

The Lord Wants to Go to Judea Again

After two days, the moment comes when the Lord tells His disciples that they will go to Judea again. He does not say anything about His intention to go there, but mentions the area to test His disciples and teach them new lessons.

The disciples know the enmity that the people in that area have against the Lord. They remember all too well how the Jews recently tried to stone Him (John 8:59; John 10:31). After all, He had left – in their eyes perhaps fled – to escape His murderers. Is it not a challenge of fate, then, to visit that area again? They are unaware that as long as it is not yet the Father’s time His enemies can do nothing to Him.

The Lord responds to their questioning with important teaching about going the right way. A path is clear once the Father has made it known. If it is the will of the Father, it is day. The known will of God and His Word are the light of day. Christ lived on earth from His relationship with the Father and the knowledge of His will. He therefore always walked in full daylight and never stumbled.

This also applies to us. If we follow Christ Who lived as an example for us on earth and Who is the light of the world for us, we will not stumble, i.e. we will not make wrong decisions. If we go our way without knowing the will of the Father from the Word of God, we will walk in the night. Then we will certainly stumble, because there will be no light in us from a relationship with the Father which would show us the way to go.

Verses 11-16

The Purpose of the Journey

After the important teaching about going the way of the Father, the Lord tells His disciples why He is going to Judea again. He does this in a way that again invites the disciples to respond. He talks about the fact that Lazarus, “our friend”, has fallen asleep, but that He goes to him to awaken him out of sleep. Except once in Matthew 26 and once in Luke 12, the Lord Jesus uses the word “friend” or “friends” for His disciples only in this Gospel (Matthew 26:50; Luke 12:4; John 11:11; John 15:13-Ezra :).

What He tells His disciples about what He intends to do with Lazarus, is again misunderstood by them, as their reaction shows. Like the sisters, they address Him with “Lord”. Then they tell Him their vision on the matter. They conclude from His words that the prospects for healing are favorable because Lazarus is asleep. If he sleeps, he will recover. Again, their remark shows how much they view this situation from a human point of view only.

The fact that He said that this sickness serves the glory of God and of the Son of God has not reached them. But the Lord has spoken about death and not about the literal sleep, as they believe. For Him, the death of the believer is also no more than sleep. In His omnipotence He can awaken someone from sleep as well as from death.

To remove any doubt from the disciples about how Lazarus’ condition actually is, the Lord tells them in plain language that Lazarus died. He also says that He is glad for them that He was not with Lazarus during his sickness. If He had been there, Lazarus would not have died, because where He is, death can never assert its power. Where He is, death must give way.

If He had been there, they would not have been able to see His glorious power in the resurrection that they will now see in a special way. That is why they will believe. It is not about them coming to faith in Him, because they really believe in Him. It is about them believing in Him as the Son of God by witnessing His power over death.

Then the Lord says: “Let us go to him.” To Him Lazarus is still present and to be visited even though he has died. He is going to meet him. By this the Lord does not mean what David once said in view of the son he had conceived in fornication with Bathsheba who had died. David said that he would go to him, that is, at the time of his death, but that the boy would not return to him (2 Samuel 12:23). No, the Lord will meet Lazarus as a living one because He will raise him from the dead.

Thomas makes the decision to go with him. He urges his fellow disciples to do the same. What Thomas says shows his love for the Lord. For him it is certain that the Lord will have to pay with death for his journey to Judea. If that is so, then he is prepared to die with Him. At the same time Thomas shows that he has no understanding of what really drives the Lord, not only of the purpose of His mission, but also of the will and the path of the Father that He is going. His statement also shows that he does not know himself. With all his sincerity he will, when it comes down to it, flee like all other disciples (Matthew 26:56).

Verses 17-19

The Lord Comes to Bethany

Not only did Lazarus die, but he has also been in the tomb for four days. John mentions this because this fact makes the sign of the resurrection of Lazarus even more impressive. With many signs additional information is given in order to be completely convincing. For example, we read about wine that is missing at a wedding, about food that is needed for more than five thousand people, about the lame one who has been ill for thirty-eight years, about a blind man who has been blind from birth.

The location of the village is mentioned as “near Jerusalem”. Bethany lies on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. God arranges all this because He wants to give a testimony of His Son in this area. The family of Bethany will have had many acquaintances in Jerusalem. As God-fearing Jews, they will also have often been in the temple and met many others there. Many have come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. Because of this many are present to witness the testimony that God is going to give of His Son.

Grieving over a deceased person is a natural reaction and appropriate for that circumstance (Acts 8:2; Acts 9:39; cf. 2 Chronicles 21:20). This reaction is different for believers than for unbelievers because unbelievers have no hope, while believers do (1 Thessalonians 4:13-2 Chronicles :).

Verses 20-27

Conversation of the Lord With Martha

When Martha hears that the Lord is coming, she goes to meet Him. She cannot have the patience to wait for Him. Possibly this is because of her active character. Mary does not follow her in her going to the Lord, but stays at home. Mary is waiting for Him. She knows that He is coming and has everything in His hands which gives her peace.

When Martha has come to the Lord, she expresses her faith in His power that her brother would not have died if He had been present. Possibly there is some disappointment in her voice that He did not come immediately when they sent Him the message of Lazarus’ sickness. Yet there is also faith in Martha that He is capable of wonders. However, she appears to think more about the future, the resurrection on the last day, than that He will still do a wonder to Lazarus now.

When she expresses her faith in him as the Messiah Who receives from God everything He would ask of Him, it is an expression of the limited faith she has in Him. For the Lord Jesus is not only the Messiah Who gets everything He desires from God. He is also God the Son Who will raise up Lazarus in His own power and thereby give a testimony concerning His Person that is greater than that of Messiah. She speaks of “God” and “ask”, while He is the Son of God Who does not have to ask God because He is God the Son.

Nevertheless, the Lord does not rebuke Martha for her lacking honor to His Person. He follows His own course in the teaching He gives to her. He promises her that her brother will rise again. Martha answers in a way which shows that she only sees the Messiah in the Lord Jesus. She knows that her brother will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. The certainty she expresses belongs to the faith of the Old Testament (Job 19:26; Psalms 118:17; Daniel 12:2). However, she does not realize that He is able to raise the dead now and that He will demonstrate this in just a few moments.

First the Lord continues His patient teaching to her about Himself. He gives her a glorious revelation in which He shows her that He is “the resurrection and the life”. As such, He is above death and is the life that cannot be affected by death. Even death has to give way to Him. Whoever believes in Him can die physically, but he will live. Those who believe in Him have Him as their life (John 3:36). If such a person dies, then the life he has in the Son has not died, because this is eternal life.

When He says “I am the resurrection”, it means that there is no resurrection without Him. Even the unbelievers are resurrected by His power to be judged by Him. He is also “life” and that He is only for those who believe in Him. Whoever believes in Him receives life and possesses it for all eternity, even if he dies. He who lives physically and believes in the Son will not die for eternity, for he possesses the life of the Son of God through faith in Him. He who believes in the Son possesses life as resurrection life that has triumphed over death. For the believer, physical death is not dying, but sleeping, as the Lord said of Lazarus (John 11:11).

The Lord asks Martha if she believes that. He asks her to agree with His words. She gives an affirmative answer, an answer that is certainly true, but does not entirely answer what He asks. Certainly, He is the Christ, the Son of God Who would come into the world. But what He said to her points to a greater glory. He has come to give eternal life to those who believe which extends far beyond the glory of His reign in the realm of peace. Because of His rejection, the establishment of that realm in which He will reign as the Christ and the Son of God has been postponed. His revelation as the Son of the Father, however, can be stopped by nothing, but is seen in an especial way in the greatest opposition or difficulty.

Verses 28-32

Mary at the Feet of the Lord

Martha seems to feel, as it were, that what the Lord has said is beyond her spiritual comprehension, but that Mary has a feeling for it. In His words she has heard things of which she feels that Mary may understand better than she does.

It is also as if the words of the Lord are a call to Mary to come. This is how Martha seems to have understood them, because without a special command from the Lord she is going to call her sister Mary secretly, i.e. without the others noticing. She does so with words that reveal Mary’s special relationship with the Lord Jesus. He is the Teacher and has authority. He calls Mary to Himself.

Mary’s heart and feet respond immediately, just as anyone who lives in fellowship with the Lord will respond immediately when He calls. It is as though she has been waiting for that. She is not concerned with her grief, but with Christ. What a wonderful attitude it is to be so waiting for Christ and receive a word or a commission from Him and move once it comes.

The Lord has still not arrived in the village, but is still at the place where Martha met Him. There she has heard beautiful things from Him, which Mary did not attend. That does not mean that she has to miss it, because she will come to the same place and will see the reality of His revelation to Martha.

The Jews did not hear what Martha said to her sister, because she said it secretly. If the Lord has a word for a single person, it is meant only for that single person. Others do not hear it. Others see the effect of it. So here too. The Jews who are in the house with Mary and console her, see Mary’s reaction to Martha’s words. When they see Mary leaving, they go after her. They think she is going to the tomb to weep.

Maria, however, is not busy with a deceased Lazarus, although she is full of grief about her brother’s death. She is busy with the Lord Jesus. She is not going to the place of death, but to the place of life, to Him Who is Life. She comes to the place where He is and sees Him. She speaks the same words as Martha and in her confession of Christ she goes no further than Martha. She too believes that He could have prevented their brother from dying. But she utters those words as she lies at His feet, indicating how impressed she is by His glory. Further she says nothing and He says nothing to her either, contrary to what He did when He met Martha.

Between people who live in close fellowship with each other not many words are needed to understand each other. We always see Mary at the feet of the Lord. First for her education (Luke 10:39), then here where she brings her need to Him and finally to worship Him (John 12:3).

Verses 33-37

Jesus Wept

Although the Lord Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and although He knows that in a few moments He will raise Lazarus from the dead, He also has an eye for the sorrow that death brings. With Him it is more than just human compassion for the loss of a loved one, although it is also that. More than anyone else – and in fact, it is only the case with Him – He is indignant about the power of death. He fully senses the power of the enemy who exercises his authority through death, not only over Mary and the Jews, but over all human beings. His indignation concerns death. The words “deeply moved” means feeling or expressing a strong disapproval.

Then, although He knows where Lazarus lies, He asks the way to the tomb. If the Lord Jesus asks questions, it is not because He needs information from us. With His questions He wants to reveal the hidden part of the heart of the one He asks His questions to. He invites us to tell Him everything. We are allowed to take Him along to and in our grief. He wants to be there with us and go through it with us. His indignation about Satan’s power through sin does not negate His sympathy (cf. Matthew 8:17). He never reveals only strength, nor is it only compassion. In His spirit He carries every case of sickness that He heals, whereas His power takes it away.

This is not about sickness, but about the even greater havoc death has wrought in a family He loves. That does not mean that He lets Himself be guided by His feelings. Feelings never have the upper hand with Him, as is often the case with us. Every feeling in Christ is perfect according to kind and measure, fitting for every occasion. It is all perfect in God’s eye. How precious that is for us as well. The Lord really sheds tears that express His inner feelings.

The Jews deduce from His tears that He is saddened by the loss of a loved one. Certainly, the Lord loved Lazarus. This is also witnessed several times (John 11:3; John 11:5). But they have no awareness that He weeps for death as the terrible consequence of sin. What matters to Him is the cause of death. That He feels like no other.

Some others don’t think the Lord’s weeping is really justified. He could have prevented Lazarus from dying, couldn’t He? Someone who can open the eyes of the blind man could also have ensured that Lazarus would have recovered. In this way we can also reason when we wonder why the Lord heals the one and the other He does not heal. Then it comes down to trusting Him in the way He goes with each of His sheep. We also know the answer from John 11:4.

Verses 38-44

The Lord Calls Lazarus to Come Forth

The Lord does not appear as an unmoved great one with the self-assurance of an almighty at the tomb. When He gets there, He again is deeply moved within. He was that when He saw the effect of death’s power in the sorrow of the sisters and the others (John 11:33). Here He is in the direct presence of death itself.

The tomb is in a cave of which the opening is closed with a stone. The Lord commands the stone to be removed. He Himself could have removed the stone or by some wonder causing it to roll away. He does not do that. We always see that He never takes from people what they themselves can do. He always engages people when something has to happen that they can do themselves. He takes care of the impossible, that which people cannot do.

Martha thinks she has to remark that removing the stone paves the way for the stench of a decaying body. She thinks that the only consequence of the removing of the stone is that they are all again emphatically confronted with the deceased Lazarus in a very unpleasant way. She soon forgot what He said. The Lord lovingly reminds her of this and encourages her to believe. It is a lesson for us to heed the Word in faith. We will reap the fruit of such faith. That fruit is to see the glory of God.

People obey the Lord’s command and remove the stone. Then He first raises His eyes and thanks His Father. He does not immediately call out Lazarus. First He shows His deep dependence on His Father in expressing His thanks to Him that He heard Him even before He called Lazarus to life.

The Lord expresses His complete trust in the Father as the One Who always hears Him. He does not do this for Himself, but for the sake of the crowd around Him. His great goal is always to bear witness to the Father Who sent Him and that they will believe in Him. The goal that the Father, in turn, has is to glorify His Son. He receives this glorification from the Father because He always does what is pleasing to Him.

After he has spoken to the Father in the presence of the crowd, he raises His voice and calls out Lazarus. The Lord Jesus ‘cries out’ several times in this Gospel. The first time it is a crying out to come to Him and believe in Him (John 7:37). That is the call of the gospel. The second time is here, a crying out to the dead. We can link this to the power of the Lord’s voice to bring to life the spiritual dead (John 5:25). The third time is a final crying out to the people to believe in Him (John 12:44).

At the commanding cry of the Lord, the dead person comes forth. Lazarus is emphatically referred to as “the man who had died” in order to put all the emphasis on bringing a dead person to life. The dead person comes forth because he heard the voice of the Son of God (John 5:25). There Lazarus comes walking out of the tomb, while the wrapping and sweat cloth are still on him. Everything that reminds us of death is still with him, but he himself is alive.

Then the Lord says that Lazarus must be freed from his tomb cloth and sweat cloth. Again we see that He gives an order to others. He not only gives life, but He also gives freedom. From a spiritual point of view this liberation is the teaching from the Word of God that teachers give to the newly converted. In this way a person who has come to repentance learns to give up everything that belongs to his old life, what belongs to death, so that he can go his way in freedom for the Lord.

Verses 45-48

Responses to the Resurrection

Through Mary many have come into contact with Christ. It is beautiful when by our going to the Lord others come in contact with Him. Many of the Jews have seen what He has done and therefore believe in Him. As mentioned before, that does not necessarily mean that they acknowledge their Savior in Him. The most obvious is that they are attracted to Him by the wonder as Someone Who can transform their earthly, bodily need into prosperity.

However, there are also Jews who go to the Pharisees to tell them what He has done. They have seen it too, but they don’t want to believe that there is Someone at work here Who has the very best intentions for them. They prefer to be appreciated by the Pharisees. The message of the witnesses sets the chief priests and Pharisees in motion. They convene a council to deliberate what they should do. They rightly conclude that the Lord does many signs. Only they do not want to accept them, because they see in these signs a great threat to their position of authority among the people.

Here we see that the question and remark of the rich man in hades to send someone from the dead to his brothers and that they would then believe, is not justified and Abraham’s answer is (Luke 16:30-Obadiah :). Someone from the dead has come back into life here, but they don’t believe. These people only care about maintaining their own place of honor and authority among the people.

They discuss that all of them would believe in Him if they let Him go on. That new Leader would then become the cause for the Romans to come to put an end to this gathering. In the first place that would result in them losing their place – by which they meant their position or perhaps also the temple from which they derived that position. The second consequence would be that they would lose their people. They talk about ‘our’ place and about ‘our’ people. There is no thought of God.

Verses 49-52

The Prophecy of Caiaphas

The president of the council is the high priest Caiaphas. It is his turn this year. The annual change of the high priesthood shows how much the priesthood has deviated from God’s original intention. While they deliberate, Caiaphas opens his mouth and makes a wise statement. He states that his fellow councilors talk out of ignorance. They should not launch wild thoughts about their fear of losing their place and their people. It is all much simpler: Jesus just has to die. If He dies, the problem is solved. Then they can keep their place and nothing will happen to the people.

The Spirit of God then notes that this ‘cleverness’ of the high priest is an unintentional but no less true prophecy about the death of Christ. The Spirit of God uses the mouth of Caiaphas to pronounce a prophecy. Similarly, the Spirit also used the mouth of an ungodly Balaam to utter the most beautiful prophecies about the people (Numbers 23-24). The Lord Jesus would indeed die for the people. Thus their thoughts of evil would be turned by God for the good of the people (Genesis 50:20).

God’s plans with the death of His Son go even further. He will not only die for the people, but through His death He will unite the children of God who are scattered abroad. The scattered children of God are others than the Jewish sheep (John 10:16). That unity has become a fact in the church of God in the New Testament.

Before the time of the church, which came into existence in Acts 2 (Acts 2:1-Numbers :), there was no unity of all believers around the world. The only unity there was, was that of Israel. This was a national unity. That does not mean that all in Israel were children of God. In addition, also outside of Israel were believers, but they were outside the blessings of God’s people. They had never become one. This only happened when the Lord Jesus gave His life and He was glorified and then gave the Holy Spirit Who formed this unity. That unity is based on the death of Christ.

Verses 53-57

The Arrest Warrant

Knowing nothing of God’s plans, the wicked leaders continue their deliberations. It is now decided: Jesus must be killed. This is what their efforts will be focused on from now on. It is the seventh and last time that this intention is mentioned.

The Lord is fully aware of their murderous plans and no longer walks freely among the Jews. He does not do this out of fear, but by order of the Father. At the time determined by the Father and not on the occasion deemed appropriate by His enemies, He will give Himself into their hands.

The Lord goes away from Jerusalem to the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim. Wilderness indicates the deadness of the people. Ephraim means ‘double fertility’. Where no fruit is to be expected from the people, the result of His work will have a double fruit, in which we can think of Israel and the church.

His disciples accompany Him in His stay in that place. Although His disciples are not the direct targets of the Pharisees’ murder plans, they do share in the consequences it has for the Lord’s way. It is nice to see that they remain faithful to Him in spite of everything, because they did not understand everything the Lord said and did and the hatred that is provoked thereby.

The time is approaching to go back to Jerusalem. The reason to go there is the Passover, which is again called “the Passover of the Jews”. Many from the country have already set out to be in Jerusalem in time to purify themselves. But what do outward purifying and an outward feast mean when He Who instituted this feast and should be the center of it, is rejected and hated, and even an arrest warrant has been issued against Him (John 11:57)?

Just as in John 7 (John 7:11), people in Jerusalem are seeking for the Lord Jesus. Geographically they are in the right place, in the temple. There He has often taught. But the temple is empty. Therefore they are spiritually in the wrong place and remain in darkness about Who He is. They do discuss it with one another and ask for each other’s opinion, but it does not go further than curiosity. The heart does not really turn to Him.

The chief priests and Pharisees are spiritually much further distant from the Lord and live in even greater darkness. They are filled with only one thing and that is His death. They no longer try to seize Him with trickery through spies, but order His tracking (Luke 20:20). Whoever can provide any information about His whereabouts, is expected to report it immediately. They will then take the action they fervently desire and seize Him.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op John 11". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/john-11.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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