the Second Week of Lent
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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. Lazarus of Bethany:
The home of the Lazarus mentioned in John 11:1 was Bethany. He was the brother of Martha and Mary ( John 11:1 , John 11:2; see also Luke 10:38-41 ). All three were especially beloved by Jesus (John 11:5 ), and at their home He more than once, and probably often, was entertained (Luke 10:38-41; Jn 11). As intimated by the number of condoling friends from the city, and perhaps from the costly ointment used by Mary, the family was probably well-to-do. In the absence of Jesus, Lazarus was taken sick, died, and was buried, but, after having lain in the grave four days, was brought back to life by the Saviour (John 11:3 , John 11:14 , John 11:17 , John 11:43 , John 11:44 ). As a result many Jews believed on Jesus, but others went and told the Pharisees, and a council was therefore called to hasten the decree of the Master's death (John 11:45-53 ). Later, six days before the Passover, at a feast in some home in Bethany where Martha served, Lazarus sat at table as one of the guests, when his sister Mary anointed the feet of Jesus (John 12:1-3 ). Many of the common people came thither, not only to see Jesus, but also the risen Lazarus, believed in Jesus, and were enthusiastic in witnessing for Him during the triumphal entry, and attracted others from the city to meet Him (John 12:9 , John 12:11 , John 12:17 , John 12:18 ). For that reason the priests plotted to murder Lazarus (John 12:10 ). This is all that we really know about the man, for whether the Jews accomplished his death we are not informed, but it seems probable that, satiated with the death of Jesus, they left Lazarus unmolested. Nothing is told of his experiences between death and resurrection (compare Tennyson, "In Memoriam," xxxi), of his emotions upon coming out of the tomb, of his subsequent life (compare Browning, "A Letter to Karshish"), and not a word of revelation does he give as to the other world. His resurrection has been a favorite subject for various forms of Christian art, and according to an old tradition of Epiphanius he was 30 years old when he was raised from the dead, and lived 30 years thereafter.
As might be expected this miracle has been vigorously assailed by all schools of hostile critics. Ingenuity has been exhausted in inventing objections to it. But all told, they really amount only to three.
(1) The Silence of the Other Gospels.
There is here, no doubt, some difficulty. But the desire of the early Christians, as many scholars think, to screen the family from danger may have kept the story from becoming current in the oral tradition whence the Synoptics drew their materials, though Matthew was probably an eyewitness. But, in any case, the Synoptics do not pretend to give all the deeds of Jesus, and in the report by them we have few save those which were wrought in Galilee. Each of them has omitted elements of highest interest which others have preserved. Thus, Luke alone gives us the raising of the widow's son at Nain. John, knowing that the others had omitted this, tells us what he had himself witnessed, since all danger to the family had long ago passed away, as it was of especial interest to his story, and he had recorded no other case of resurrection. At any rate, the Gospel writers do not seem to regard a resurrection from the dead by the power of Jesus as so much more stupendous than other miracles, as they seem to modern scholars and to the Jews, and, moreover, the Synoptics do unconsciously attest this miracle by describing a sudden outburst of popular excitement in favor of Jesus which can be accounted for only by some extraordinary event.
(2) The Stupendous Character of the Miracle.
But to a philosophical believer in miracles this is no obstacle at all, for to omnipotence there are no such things as big miracles or little ones. Of course, Martha's statement as to the decomposition of the body was only her opinion of the probability in the case, and He, who sees the end from the beginning and who had intended to raise Lazarus, might well in His providence have watched over the body that it should not see corruption. When all is said, "He who has created the organic cell within inorganic matter is not incapable of reestablishing life within the inanimate substance."
(3) Its Non-Use as an Accusation Against Jesus.
The objection that John 11:47-53 is inconsistent with the fact that in accusing Jesus before Pilate no mention is made of this miracle by the enemies of Jesus has little weight. Who would expect them to make such a self-convicting acknowledgment? The dismay of the priests at the miracle and their silence about it are perfectly compatible and natural.
No one of the attempted explanations which deny the reality of the miracle can offer even a show of probability. That Lazarus was just recovering from a trance when Jesus arrived; that it was an imposture arranged by the family and sanctioned by Jesus in order to overwhelm His enemies; that it was a fiction or parable translated into a fact and made up largely of synoptic materials, an allegorical illustration of the words, "I am the resurrection, and the life," a myth - such explanations require more faith than to believe the fables of the Talmud They well illustrate the credulity of unbelief. The narrative holds together with perfect consistency, is distinguished by vivacity and dramatic movement, the people who take part in it are intensely real and natural, and the picture of the sisters perfectly agrees with the sketch of them in Luke. No morbid curiosity of the reader is satisfied. Invented stories are not like this. Even a Renan declares that it is a necessary link in the story of the final catastrophe.
The purpose of the miracle seems to have been: (1) to show Himself as Lord of life and death just before He should be Himself condemned to die; (2) to strengthen the faith of His disciples; (3) to convert many Jews; (4) to cause the priests to hasten their movements so as to be ready when His hour had come (Plummer,
2. The Beggar:
In the parable in Luke 16:19-31 , Lazarus is pictured as in abject poverty in this world, but highly rewarded and honored in the next. It is the only instance of a proper name used in a parable by Jesus. Some think that he was a well-known mendicant in Jerusalem, and have even attempted to define his disease. But this is no doubt simple invention, and, since "in Christ's kingdom of truth names indicate realities," this was probably given because of its significance, suggesting the beggar's faith in God and patient dependence upon Him. It was this faith and not his poverty which at last brought him into Abraham's bosom. Not one word does Lazarus speak in the parable, and this may also be suggestive of patient submission. He does not murmur at his hard lot, nor rail at the rich man, nor after death triumph over him. The parable is related to that of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21 ). This latter draws the veil over the worldling at death; the other lifts it. It is also a counterpart of that of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13 ), which shows how wealth may wisely be used to our advantage, while this parable shows what calamities result from failing to make such wise use of riches. The great lesson is that our condition in Hades depends upon our conduct here, and that this may produce a complete reversal of fortune and of popular judgments. Thus, Lazarus represents the pious indigent who stood at the opposite extreme from the proud, covetous, and luxury-loving Pharisee. The parable made a deep impression on the mind of the church, so that the term "lazar," no longer a proper name, has passed into many languages, as in lazar house, lazaretto, also lazzarone, applied to the mendicants of Italian towns. There was even an order, half-military, half-monastic, called the Knights of Lazarus, whose special duty it was to minister to lepers.
The rich man is often styled Dives, which is not strictly a proper name, but a Latin adjective meaning "rich," which occurs in this passage in the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) But in English literature, as early as Chaucer, as seen in the "Sompnoure's Tale" and in "Piers Plowman," it appears in popular use as the name of the Rich Man in this parable. In later theological literature it has become almost universally current. The name Nineuis given him by Euthymius never came into general use, though the Sahidic version has the addition, "whose name was Ninue." His sin was not in being rich, for Abraham was among the wealthiest of his day, but in his worldly unbelief in the spiritual and eternal, revealing itself in ostentatious luxury and hard-hearted contempt of the poor. Says Augustine, "Seems he (Jesus) not to have been reading from that book where he found the name of the poor man written, but found not the name of the rich, for that book is the book of life?"
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Lazarus'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​isb/​l/lazarus.html. 1915.