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Bible Commentaries
John 11

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The Feast of Dedication being near the close of December, we suppose our Saviour to have remained in Bethabara, as mentioned at the close of the last chapter, about six weeks. It was therefore early in February that a messenger arriving informed him of the sickness of Lazarus.

Verse 1

1. Now Rather to be translated But; the going to Bethany being the reverse of his remaining in Bethabara.

Town of Mary Commentators notice that John assumes that his readers are acquainted with the names of Mary and Martha. He even seems to suppose that his readers know a fact which he is soon to fully narrate, (John 12:3.) It is equally clear that he assumes that a certain Lazarus (who is indeed named by no other Evangelist) is to his readers unknown. It is a serious question: How happens it that this greatest of miracles is emitted from the other Gospels? The ancient reply is, (and perhaps no better can be given,) that the other Evangelists wrote while Lazarus was still living, and from delicacy, or for safety, avoided exposing him to notoriety and danger from the hostile Jews. But it does not, in fact, seem that the other Evangelists viewed the raising of the dead as so pre-eminent a miracle as it is esteemed by modern thinkers or by the Jewish populace. The raising of the widow’s son of Nain is narrated by Luke alone, and in as brief and ordinary a way as any other miracle. And pictorially as John spreads out this narrative, it fills no wider space than that of the restoration of the blind-born in chap. 9. The Evangelists, doubtless, presuppose that either of these miracles require a whole omnipotence, and neither requires more. To the popular view, and to the eye of modern science, the raising of the dead appears the greatest of miracles; but to a true spiritual view the casting out and controlling demons may be far greater. The former is a mastery of passive or willing human nature; the latter is a mastery of hostile powers. But the reality of the present miracle is unconsciously attested by all the Evangelists; since they all describe a sudden popular excitement in favour of Jesus which can be solved only by some such fact; an excitement which soon reacted and resulted in his crucifixion. See John 12:11; John 12:17-18. From the fact that Bethany is called the town of Mary and Martha, it is not to be inferred, as it is by some, that the sisters were largely property holders, (though this may have been the case,) but that they were permanent residents. So Bethsaida is styled by our Evangelist “the city of Andrew and Peter,” John 1:44.

Verse 3

3. Whom thou lovest The sisters presume to make no request. They boast not of Lazarus’s love to Jesus; but modestly refer to the Lord’s love to Lazarus, and leave that love to decide what shall be done.

Verse 4

4. Not unto death For even though he died, it was not finally unto death but life. Our Lord really states an antithesis between two final ends; namely, the glory of God and Lazarus’s death. The final end should not be the latter, but the former.

The glory of God The manifested honour to Jehovah from the miracle.

Verse 5

5. Jesus loved Martha By placing Martha’s name first, John puts an unconscious contradiction upon all irreverent thought that the tenderest love of Jesus for one of the opposite sex was other than divinely sacred. The Greek term for love, in John 11:3, implies the love of affection; that in this verse of esteem or friendship.

Verse 6

6. Therefore In consequence of his regard to this family he pursued a course apparently cold, really supremely kind. He did not come; he waited until the disease should be unto death in order that it might not be unto death. Strauss absurdly objects that it was immoral for Jesus to allow Lazarus thus to die in order to raise him from the dead. But would it have been less immoral for him to have permitted his death without any purpose to raise him? Is it immoral for God to allow the human race to die in order to a resurrection?

Abode two days There appears something quite felicitous in the identification by Wieseler of these two days with the to day and to morrow of Luke 13:32. And then the passage, Luke 13:22, will be identified with this present journey to Bethany. And then the profoundly interesting details of Luke 13:22 to Luke 17:10, are a narrative of Jesus’s teachings after the reception of this message from the sisters of Bethany. See Harmony, p. 101. And we see why in the parable Lazarus is the name chosen, (Luke 16:27, where see note,) for one desired to be raised from the dead. While the man he loved is dying, Jesus is performing his living mission preparatory to his own death and resurrection.

Place where he was Near or at Bethabara, east of the Jordan. (See map.)

Verse 7

7. After that When the period of both waiting and duty had expired. Our Lord moves by the clock of his Father’s time-keeping. (See note on John 2:4.)

Verse 8

8. Jews… stone thee At both his last two visits to Jerusalem; namely, at the Feast of Tabernacles (John 8:59) and at the Feast of Dedication, (John 10:31.) Whether he should tempt a third assault was a matter of reasonable query. (See note on John 11:16.)

Verse 9

9. Twelve hours As precisely as the sun measures off the twelve hours, so does God mark out for him his exact time and mission; and clear as the world-light, the sun, over the path and the hours of that mission shines the divine light of duty. In that mission he is divinely safe; for death itself, being in the mission, would be true safety. A man is “immortal until his work is done.”

Verse 10

10. In the night Opposed to this day of mission and duty there is a night-side of darkness and wandering. It is the hemisphere outside man’s true life.

No light in him A man’s divinely-assigned path is a divinely-illumined path. The light is a blended light, combining rays of reason, conscience, Scripture, providence, and the blessed Spirit. And it is not only a light around a man, but a light in him. The dark wanderer, with no light in him, stumbleth.

Verse 11

11. Our friend… sleepeth Jesus now sees with the spirit-eye that Lazarus has expired, and knows the sorrows of the watching sisters. Pressed doubtless by sympathy, he announces the fact to his disciples, to whom, in common with himself, Lazarus was our friend. All nations and all men, impressed by the resemblance of a slumbering person to a corpse, think and speak of death as a sleep. Yet, in the Lord’s mouth, it is doubtless used to indicate the lesson that death, like sleep, awaits a waking. See note on Luke 8:52.

Verse 12

12. If he sleep Our Lord’s words were intentionally ambiguous; and the disciples avail themselves of the ambiguity of the language to hint that Lazarus is well enough without him, and so show the needlessness of the hazardous journey. Refreshing sleep is an encouraging symptom, and often the best of medicines.

Verse 14

14. Plainly… dead Jesus has suggested the lesson that he can waken alike the apathy of sleep and of death; he now, to shut off their hint, passes from the figure, and pronounces the solemn word, dead. Olshausen remarks that the reality of Lazarus’s death, instead of swoon or syncope, cannot be proved except by Jesus’s own assertion. It would, then, doubtless follow that the event could be no proof of Jesus’s divine mission. To prove the miracle by Christ, and then prove Christ by the miracle, would be reasoning in a circle. But the credibility of no one miracle depends on its own single proof. An isolated, disconnected miracle would be, without very powerful evidence indeed, unworthy of examination. See note on Luke 15:31.

Verse 15

15. I am glad Jesus, here, seems to rejoice at the opportunity for the miracle. But was not miracle always in his power? Doubtless in his power always; but not always accordantly with the divine will. He who moved by the Father’s will, and timed his steps by the divine clock, (see notes on John 11:7; John 11:9-10,) rejoiced when the hour struck for some great work confirmatory of his mission.

Ye may believe John uses the word believe for the various degrees and stages of faith. See note on John 2:11. This great work would stand in memory and on record, one of the pillars for faith to repose upon.

Verse 16

16. Didymus Thomas in Aramaic, and Didymus in Greek; both signify

twin. Die with him That death awaited them if they visited Jerusalem. and was very probable at Bethany, but two miles distant from Jerusalem, is clear from our note upon John 11:8. How just the anticipation was appears from John 11:53-54. Jesus himself avoided the hazard by retiring from Bethany to Ephraim. We can hardly, therefore, adopt the usual reflections of commentators upon Thomas’s want of faith. On the contrary, we recognise a mind that realized a genuine danger in a truly heroic spirit.

Verse 17

17. Four days Reckoning the day on which he died as one; Jesus remained two days; and one day of journey made four.

Verse 18

18. Fifteen furlongs Near two miles.

Verse 19

19. Jews came to comfort The nearness to Jerusalem is mentioned to explain why so many Jews were present. Great is oriental mourning. Weeping and howling for three days, visits of condolence for seven, and thirty days before the last offices are complete. The number here present suggests that the family of Bethany was honourable. Thereby the miracle was plentifully witnessed and published. Few of these comforters sympathized with the Christian hopes of these sisters. But the true Comforter was on his way. Jesus visits his “faithful among the faithless.”

Verse 20

20. Martha… heard… went Jesus approaches but enters not the town; avoiding the crowd of Jews at the house. Martha, probably by a secret message, learns his arrival; and with apparent secrecy, as if sharing the disciples’ fears of danger to the Master, meets him at his place of stoppage. There ensues a conversation between the two, apparently alone.

Mary sat still in the house Omit the word still, added in italics by the translators. It is not clear that Martha was also in the house; and the message of Jesus’s approach probably reached her alone. It is not until her return (John 11:28) that Mary learns, and from her, that the Master is come.

Verse 21

21. If thou hadst been here Mary meets the Lord with the same first words, (John 11:32.) Stier beautifully paraphrases their correspondent utterances: “‘Alas, Lord, we have thought it a hundred times since our brother died;’ and they must tell him as soon as they saw him.” It was not reproach, for Lazarus died on the very day of their message; too soon for Jesus’s possible coming. But it is, “O that thou hadst been here! then my brother had not died.”

Verse 22

22. Even now Though he is dead, thy prayer, I know, could bring him to life. She had doubtless heard that he had called others from death; but to the height of so great a boon her mind can scarce ascend, and the half-formed thought disappears.

Verse 23

23. Thy brother shall rise Jesus truly closes upon her transient words. He promises what she dares not hope, and dares not believe in its fulness.

Verse 24

24. In the resurrection The words of Martha indicate the common faith of the Jews of her day in the resurrection of the body.

Last day The closing day of this world’s history, when the entire race shall stand before the Judge of quick and dead. Martha puts this unhoping construction upon the Lord’s words, as if to draw out a more explicit assurance of a present aid. Little did she anticipate in what a burst of grandeur the assurance would come forth.

Verse 25

25. I am… resurrection… life The due understanding of these two sublime verses requires an analysis of the two principal terms. Resurrection is the reunion of a conscious soul to a body by it vitalized. Thence results actual physical life compositely of soul and body. Yet life, as often used, especially in John’s Gospel, designates something over and above this. Certainly does this higher meaning exist when the life is conditioned, as here, upon faith. It is then a life upon life; THE life supereminently; the glorified, celestial Life, over and above a life consisting in mere conscious existence. When, therefore, Martha names the resurrection, Christ responds, I am not only the resurrection but I am more; I am the life. He is author not only of that mere life resulting from union of soul and body, but of the celestial life by which man is a glorified being. We then paraphrase the words thus: I am not only the physical resurrection, but I am the life celestial; he that believeth in me, though he (like Lazarus) should die, yet the life celestial survives; and he that (unlike Lazarus) is still alive, and is a believer in me, shall never experience any death of that celestial life. To be the resurrection is one thing; to be the life another.

Verse 27

27. Yea… thou art the Christ The even-minded Jewess can hardly ascend the height of these lofty hopes; but she believes in Christ, and all he promises is sure. The quiet and consoled confessor leaves and returns to her sister and her cares.

Verse 28

28. Calleth for thee The call is not narrated; but Martha gives it not only truly but secretly. None but the two sisters have as yet learned that the Saviour is present.

Verse 32

32. Fell down at his feet Mary’s ardent soul appears in every motion. As soon, quickly, (John 11:29,) hastily, (John 11:31,) she fell down at his feet, (32.) She utters, like Martha, her double note of sorrow over what is, and what, alas! might have been; but, unlike Martha, she utters no saving clause of hope, (John 11:22.) Jesus answers her not as Martha, with a promise, but with the deed. He is here, and Lazarus is about to live.

Verse 33

33. Groaned in the spirit Commentators have been much perplexed by the undeniable fact that the Greek word for groaned here is expressive of anger rather than grief. Alford explains it of the peremptory and half-indignant volition with which even many a minister at a funeral represses the rise of undue sympathy with the weeping or relatives. We prefer the interpretation of Stier. The Son of man is indignant at the great Enemy, the cause of sorrow and death, with whom he ever struggles, and whom, by dying, he must subdue.

Verse 35

35. Jesus wept It was in walking from his place of stoppage to the tomb that Jesus wept. It was a strange and most heartless objection of Strauss, that the tears of Jesus could have no reality for a friend he was about to restore to life. That restoration to life sprang from the same sympathy for human woe which produced the tears. O the truly, deeply human Jesus!

How divine the thought, that the Divine could be so human as to blend his tears with ours and make our sorrow sacred! How infidel the heart of the man whose speculations would so coldly analyze as to destroy the blessed fact.

Verse 36

36. Then said the Jews In the wake of Mary (John 11:31) these Jews followed, as they supposed, to the tomb, when, lo! the mysterious One stood before them, the maiden kneeling at his feet! From his refuge beyond the Jordan this wonder-worker, who had so lately startled Jerusalem by his words and deeds, had come. His face was not as some had seen it, looking upon the stormy mob of the capital, placid and majestic, but instinct with indignant grief, the grief soon overpowering the ire and pouring forth in tears.

Behold how he loved him was their word of wonder that this wonderful One could so love his fellow; thus evincing the impression of the divinity of Jesus, now made upon the minds of the people.

Verse 37

37. Some said This was an echoed response. It expresses no doubt of his past miracles, no malice or cavil about his power. It stops at simple wonder that this miraculously endowed being had allowed so loved a friend to die! The words rather indicate that the miracle of restoring the blind-born was admitted as true by the people of Jerusalem.

Verse 38

38. A cave… a stone Probably a square subterranean room, artificially excavated, and entered by a horizontal opening. A stone lying against the entrance, to guard the interior from intruders, had to be rolled away. Descending steps brought the visitor to its floor. Recesses, cut into the side walls, contained each a corpse, which was placed, the head going in first, and the feet pointing into the room. Sometimes the corpse lay parallel to the wall as upon a shelf, and so was visible from head to foot. The body was wound in linen strips, around each separate limb, and a loose sheet around the whole. A napkin or kerchief enveloped the face and neck.

Verse 39

39. Away the stone The same power that could raise the dead could surely move the stone. Angels rolled the stone when Jesus rose. The same power that raised could also have unbound the body. But here let man do all that man can do. God will do what God alone can do.

By this time he stinketh Supposing, perhaps, that Jesus exposes the corpse in order to take a last look, Martha reminds Jesus that the corpse will be offensive to the senses. Why insist on so repulsive an indulgence? Hereby Martha incidentally brings out the fact that renders the reality of the death of Lazarus to all but wilful scepticism unquestionable.

Verse 40

40. Said I not He had said it not only in John 11:4, but in John 11:23, more fully than Martha dared to accept; but its fulness he will now verify in a great

deed. If thou wouldest believe Did the miracle, then, depend upon her faith? So far as this: it was from the faith of this family of Bethany that Lazarus was selected as the object of this gracious miracle; it was from faith that their eyes (unlike those of the hostile Jews) could recognize in it the glory of God. Thus do God’s revelation and man’s faith meet and co-operate.

The glory of God Not his essential excellence, but its manifestation, through works of power and mercy, to the minds of men.

Verse 41

41. Father In the very act of the miracle he repeats in this word Father the very claim of being Son of God, for which the Jews had threatened to stone and driven him from Jerusalem, (John 10:29-40.)

Hast heard me Jesus here intimates: 1. That his miracles, as man, are in answer to his prayer. Yea, doubtless, that prayer, being the ceaseless act and position of his soul, was ceaselessly heard, as no mere man’s Isaiah 2:0. His prayer for this miracle had been previously offered, and the assurance of fulfilment received. This was clearly as early as John 11:4.

Verse 42

42. Because of the people… I said it Said what? The I thank thee of the previous verse. That thank was not a prayer, but an acknowledgment of previously heard prayer. That thank was uttered not purely for God’s sake, nor for Jesus’s sake, but also for the hearers’ sake. So is all social and public vocal prayer. In the very act of audible prayer the minister teaches the congregation what are their wants and the proper subjects of their prayer. So that there is rightly a preaching even in the public praying. Otherwise all prayer might be purely mental. Clarke supposes the audible prayer to God was intended to show that the miracle was not by Satanic power but truly divine.

Verse 43

43. Cried with a loud voice As was not his ordinary custom. This was in order to call the attention of the entire multitude to the act demonstrating his miraculous intention, and to furnish a powerful emblem of the mighty call by which he will summon the nations of the dead to the resurrection. He can “speak with the voice that wakes the dead.”

Come forth The power of the voice reached the spirit in the blessed apartment of Hades, and quick as thought it impregnated the stiff and dead corpse. Forthwith the decay and odour of death departed, and the living healthy man rose in his grave-clothes and tottered to the entrance. What a moment of solemn silence for that petrified crowd! What a thrill of joy for those weeping sisters!

Verse 44

44. Bound hand and foot Literally, bound as to his hands and as to his feet. So that his feet and hands were bandaged separately, as is the case with Egyptian mummies. Yet his hands were so bound that he could not unbind himself. There is no need of supposing, with some ancient commentators, a miracle in his being able to walk bound.

Whether this man, who had seen the spirit-world related, or not any of the secrets of that abode; whether all who inquired of him, or all save a chosen few or one, found in him a mysterious repugnance to utter a syllable upon the subject; whether he felt silenced by the consciousness that he had seen things not lawful for man to utter; or whether on his return to the light of the sun all traces of the other world were erased from his mind, we know not. To reveal our future was not the purpose of his return. Yet we can hardly doubt that the very choice of the name Lazarus, for the parable of the rich man and the beggar, is significant that one might rise from the dead without convincing the sceptic, as the conduct of some of the Jews on this occasion showed. It is an early legend of the Church, that Lazarus was now thirty years of age, and survived this event another thirty.

Verse 45

45. Many… believed Hence it can scarce be affirmed that no one would be, convinced if one should rise from the dead. See on Luke 16:31. Indeed, the many who believed seem to be more numerous than the some who went to the Pharisees, as stated in the next verse.

The Sanhedrim in council against the life of Jesus, 47-57.

The startling news from Bethany summons like a trumpet the Sanhedrim to session. They meet probably in the customary Hall of Gazith, with Ananias and Caiaphas at their head, and debate ensues, which ends in adopting the violent counsels of the high priest.

Verse 47

47. A debate ensues upon the question, What do we? As yet, until Caiphas speaks, mild counsels may have prevailed.

Doeth many miracles They do not, like modern sceptics, deny the miracles in order to destroy Jesus. They admit the work, and kill the worker lest all men should believe on him.

Verse 48

48. The Romans… come… take away They profess that an acceptance of Jesus as Messiah, in dependence upon his mere peaceful miracles, would produce a common ruin. If he would be a hero-Messiah, who would call them to his counsel and lead them to victory, there would be sense in sustaining him. (See note on John 10:24.) But this mere teacher, selecting twelve peasants as a slender imitation of the twelve tribe-rulers, and seventy itinerants in mockery of us, the Sanhedrim, if accepted by all men, that is by the whole Jewish nation, as king Messiah, would either make us submit to foreign sway forever, or lead us to declare ourselves independent of Rome, without any warlike ability to defend us from destruction by Roman arms. Unhappy men! Had the nation accepted Jesus, Jerusalem might have stood undisturbed from that day to this. It was their own perversity that produced rebellion and self-destruction.

Take away Or destroy. Place Town or city.

Verse 49

49. One… Caiaphas See note on Matthew 26:3.

Ye know nothing Thus far there had been hesitation, but Caiaphas forces a decision in dictatorial terms worthy his bloody counsels.

Verse 50

50. It is expedient The good of the whole, the preservation of our nationality, as you confess, from Roman despotism, requires the death of one, innocent or not. So let all pleas in behalf of his piety and goodness be silenced.

For us If he gains the people we know that neither he nor the people would be friends to us.

Whole nation perish not By the Roman sword; as you see it will if this man prevails.

Verse 51

51. Not of himself But by impulse from a higher power.

High priest… prophesied John clearly implies that the prophetic impulse was connected with the pontifical office. Whether this was a popular notion or not is not, as some assume, the question. It is John’s idea of the fact. It was the high priest who anciently drew responses from the Urim and Thummim. Both Josephus and Philo are quoted by Alford as sustaining the belief that the priesthood was occasionally prophetic. The momentary gift belonged not to the impious man but to the office. Nor did he even know the supernatural import of his own expression. The devil instigated his thoughts, but God overruled his words. As Pilate, (Stier in substance says,) the representative of the secular power, testified by the superscription to Jesus as King, so Caiaphas, the head of the ecclesiastical system, symbolized Jesus as the true priest and sacrifice. That year In John 18:13, the phrase is, of that same year. The words do not imply that the high-priesthood was an annual office; but Caiaphas was high priest “of that memorable year.”

Verse 52

52. Gather… children of God John unfolds, as a flower in the bud, the rich meaning contained in the unconscious prophecy of the pontiff.

The children of God Those who will by faith become the sons of God, whether Jew or Gentile.

Scattered abroad Diffused among mankind; visible to God alone. Compare note on John 10:16.

Verse 53

53. From that day Mr. Andrew, in his Life of Christ, well remarks, p. 383: “This may be regarded as the decisive and final rejection of Jesus by the Jewish authorities. Much earlier, the Jews at Jerusalem had sought to slay him as a sabbath breaker and blasphemer, (John 5:16-18;) the Pharisees and Herodians in Galilee how they might destroy him, (Mark 3:6;) the Sanhedrim had agreed to excommunicate any one who should confess that he was Christ, (John 9:22;) on one occasion officers had been sent to arrest him, (John 7:32;) and there was a general impression that his enemies would not rest till he was removed out of the way, (John 7:25.) But it does not appear that, to this time, there had been a determination of the Sanhedrim in formal session, that he should die. The miracle at Bethany, and its great popular effect, brought the matter to a crisis. The nation in its highest council decided in the most solemn manner that the public safety demanded his death. All that now remained to be done was to determine how his death could be best effected.”

Verse 54

54. To a city called Ephraim Ephraim or Ephron is identified by Robinson with the modern Taiyibeh, which is situated about twenty Roman miles northeast of Jerusalem. It is about six miles from Bethel; it stands upon a high eminence, and commands a view of the vales of the Jordan. It seems to be mentioned in 2 Chronicles 13:19 in connection with Bethel. Driven now twice from the capital, Jesus takes refuge first, in Bethabara, (John 1:28,) and last, in Ephraim. In each he remained some five or six weeks; in the last, until he departed for the last Passover. In the former, distance and the Jordan have interposed between himself and Jerusalem, and being under another jurisdiction, he spent his time in teaching and preaching. But in the latter, being but a few miles distant, he is evidently in concealment; so that eager inquiries are made after him at the prelude to the next Passover.

He continued with his disciples They had anticipated the danger, (John 11:8,) and now they share the concealment.

Verse 55

55. To purify themselves Jewish purifications (by ablution) were, 1. From some particular guilty act, (Deuteronomy 21:1-9); 2. From some contracted defilement, (Leviticus 12-15;) 3. From the ordinary personal moral state, to fit for some religious service, (Exodus 30:17-21,) as for the Passover; 4. For some religious office, as for the priesthood, (Leviticus 8:6.)

The purifying of the present verse was of the third kind. It is alluded to in 2 Chronicles 30:17. Contact with a Gentile (John 18:28; Acts 11:2; Acts 10:28) required cleansing; but the present purifying was a consecration from the general impurity of life, (especially as surrounded with Gentiles,) to the holy service at hand.

Verse 56

56. What The question may properly be divided: What think ye? That he will not come to the feast? Or , “What think ye as to the probability that he will not come to the feast?

Verse 57

57. Commandment… take him They do not lay a price upon his head, but they enjoin all good citizens to be informers against him. Where he is they know not; but he was lately heard of at Bethany, and must still be lurking somewhere near the capital. Alas for them! This hunted refugee will yet enter the capital in triumph; will face them down in the temple; and even in yielding to be their victim, will give them abundant evidence of being their Lord.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 11". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/john-11.html. 1874-1909.
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